Perfect Hostage – A Life of Aung San Suu Ky by Justin Wintle


Justin Wintle’s Perfect Hostage – A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi is not a book with a particularly perfect title. It sounds like it will be a simply a biography, and perhaps a rather fawning one, of a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, perhaps erring on the side of hero worship.

In fact Justin Wintle’s book presents much more than this. It does document the life, examine the politics and describe the actions of its dedicatee. But it also traces her background, both personal and public, and considers the status of her family in Burmese national consciousness. It describes in some detail the life of her legendary father, General Aung San. But Perfect Hostage is even more again. The book provides a wonderful account of Burma’s recent history, examining the politics, the role of the military and popular movements and then in more recent times the responses of the dictatorship in precise and informative detail. Passages that describe Burma’s participation in the Second World War are particularly illuminating, especially when juxtaposed with the course of later events.

From this account of her life, Aung San Suu Kyi emerges as a rather paradoxical figure. She is cast as both assertive in her commitment to do something for her country, and simultaneously ponderous in her apparent unwillingness to grasp opportunities when they arise. Again paradoxically we appreciate her determination to seek change, alongside her reluctance to destabilise. Her ultimate aim appears to be unification, but this may be in itself unachievable, since the diversity of interests at play may proveirreconcilable.

Throughout, via Justin Wintle’s admirably constructed work, we appreciate the contribution of Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband, Michael Aris, to his wife’s achievement. Together they shared personal, intellectual and political interests in Burma, interests that eventually led to action. This joint desire to act may have eventually have led to a separation, but that separation was merely corporal, since the couple’s joint motivation continued to thrive. And, via its consideration of Michael Aris’s role in events, Perfect Hostage eventually presents a wonderfully rounded and complete account of the personal, family and public life that Aung San Suu Kyi has led.

The book is surprising in its scope, its depth and its scholarship, but only because its title suggest something rather less than comprehensive. An example of the detail the book presents will illustrate. Justin Wintle relates some of the personal proclivities of Ne Win, Burma’s military ruler for many years. “If he travelled outside the capital, he did so in a flight of helicopters, his staff having made sure that all stray dogs in the vicinity – especially those with crooked tails – had been rounded up and slaughtered. For Ne Win was fearful of stray dogs – especially those with crooked tails… ” Following on from this, we are told that when Ne Win was warned of an impending assassination attempt, he would trample in his bedroom on the entrails of a dog or in a bowl of pig’s blood and then “he would raise his revolver… and shoot himself in the mirror.” You just cannot make this up.

Human history, it seems, is full of such ridiculous detail. But it is also full of honesty, endeavour and idealism. Justin Wintle’s portrayal of Aung San Suu Kyi is replete with all of these qualities.

Source by Philip Spires

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