Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land by Rory MacLean - review by Sara Wheeler

Sara Wheeler

Burma Discovered through a Shapely Basket

Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land


HarperCollins 208pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

In 1988 Rory MacLean got on the wrong plane in Hong Kong and went to Burma by accident. The year after that, the dictators put down a popular uprising by killing more than five thousand people, and the State Law and Order Restoration Council switched the country’s official English name to Myanmar in an attempt to obscure their actions. Recognising that the Burmese people were not consulted, and to register a protest at the brutal regime, MacLean retains the country’s original name in this book about his return to the country a decade later.

The author of two previous travel books (Stalin’s Nose and The Oatmeal Ark), MacLean stayed in Burma only a week on that first visit, but it left him with a longing to know more. Back at home in London, he and his wife fossicked around in the British Museum’s ethnographic collection, housed in an unlikely East End warehouse. Their imaginations were gripped by a shapely basket brought home from Burma by James George Scott, a late nineteenth-century Frontier officer and the author of an authoritative book on the Burmese. ‘It seemed to me’, concluded MacLean, ‘that the search for a basket like Scott’s would really be an

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