In recent years, books, films and even plays, all of variable quality, have poured forth on almost every subject imaginable to do with Burma, from the old Burmese kings to the current de facto leader of the country, Aung San Suu Kyi, from economic reform to the genocide of the Rohingya. Some of the books have been academic, some too academic, and a good few rather thin.
David Eimer, a former correspondent for The Telegraph, has served up something refreshingly different: an old-fashioned travelogue, and an excellent one at that. The book is based on his travels to Burma (officially known as Myanmar) over the last decade or so, and he brings a sympathetic perspective to his subject. A Savage Dreamland is a rich and enjoyable mix of history, amateur psychology and personal reflection, with a few dabs of investigative journalism too. Eimer does not set out to untangle, let alone resolve, any of the big questions of recent times, such as why the generals handed over power to the civilian opposition in the first place and why those civilians have performed so disastrously, alienating most of their former supporters in the West through the treatment of the Rohingya. By way of compensation, however, Eimer often reaches the places, and people, that other writers – even most Burmese – never reach.
His sharp, always well-informed observations help to create a persuasive portrait of a country that remains beguilingly oblivious to Western notions of progress. Eimer is at his best when he evokes Burma’s ‘timelessness’. ‘It is part of the country’s charm,’ he writes, ‘that its clock seems to run more slowly