“The Trouser People” by Andrew Marshall (2002)
From 1999 to 2001 I was consumed by thoughts and ideas about Burma. As I planned, then researched and attempted to write my honours thesis, a political biography of Aung San Suu Kyi, then the leader of an outlawed political party, the National League for Democracy, and languishing under house arrest for the tenth year, I devoured every journal article, book, online resource and newspaper article I could find on the subject. This book, published just a few short months after I vowed never to think about Burma again, fell into my hands late last year and drew my attention on the bookshelf just a few weeks ago, after the historic and momentous occasion of Aung San Suu Kyi finally legitimately stepping into her role as the formally recognised and accepted leader of the opposition in Burma. Still a long way from her goal of bringing democracy to Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi has, at last and at least, made inroads into the journey she set out on so very long ago. It was a great pleasure to see her finally receive her Nobel prize in person very recently, and just this week to see her addressing parliament in London, the first opposition leader from any country to ever do so. Burma has never had anything to offer the west, and so it has languished, uncared for and unassisted, as a country of complex political intricacy, ruled by a military junta bent on corruption and dictatorship. Perhaps, over a decade since the country first caught my attention, there is more hope there than ever before.
So, to “The Trouser People”, a book that tells of two journeys – the author’s and his subject’s. In the late 1880s, British officer and explorer, George Scott, travelled through Burma on a mission for the British, to conquer tribal villages in parts of the Burmese mountains never before visited by foreigners and claim them as a part of the Empire. Scott’s political and military exploits were bombastic and represented the epitome of arrogance shown by the British government in their quest for domination. On a side note, he introduced soccer to Burma, a sport that is a national obsession to this day.
In 1999, when I was sitting in an office at the Campbelltown campus of UWS, planning and researching my thesis, Andrew Marshall was in Burma, masquerading as a tourist and re-tracing Scott’s footsteps. Oh but that I had been as lucky and/or brave as him.
The book is a frustrating read. Marshall’s experiences in Burma were enthralling and while ever the book was focused on this I couldn’t put it down. However, three-quarters of every chapter was devoted to explaining Scott’s journey, and this I found quite dull and dry. I suppose the way you react to a book depends on why it invites you in in the first place. Your choice to read it and your reaction when you do is based on your own experiences or interests. I spend so much time in my job talking about the importance of a personal response and how context influences our understanding of a text. My journey through the roller coaster of honours and then the end of my first marriage has certainly influenced my response to this book. I don’t recommend it.
Time for something fun…