On 2 May 2008 tropical cyclone Nargis struck Burma with such force that even today nobody knows how many people were killed, although the ruling military junta reported exactly how many chickens died. Here is the special quality of this regime, as Emma Larkin writes in her latest evocative book: ‘Events happen in Burma, and then they are systematically unhappened.’ Unhappened is a good word, and very Orwellian, an echo perhaps of Larkin’s wonderful previous book on Orwell’s early years in Burma.
Official Burmese lying is stupendous. 1,250,194 chickens died in the cyclone, the junta declared. They also said that 76.28 per cent of Rangoon’s telephone lines were soon restored, together with 98.5 per cent of the water supply.
Those were obvious lies. But some of Larkin’s details are