Correspondence

The Lady Vanishes

In September 2000, I went to Burma to see the places where George Orwell had worked as a policeman in the 1920’s.  As I planned my trip, I fantasized about meeting the brave and beautiful Suu Kyi, daughter of the national hero, Aung San, who was assassinated by a rival political faction in 1947.  Her party had won the national elections in 1990, and she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the following year.  But the ruling military junta had not allowed her party to take power and had put her under house arrest.  Temporarily released in 1995, but still restricted in her movements, she remained an idealistic, democratic alternative to the repressive regime.

Shortly before I left home, the American attaché, who had invited me to give a talk at the embassy’s cultural center, asked if I would like to meet “a certain Lady.”  She was expected for tea at his house only a few hours after my arrival in Rangoon.  I could hardly believe my luck, but I was soon disappointed.  The day before I got there, Suu Kyi had decided to test the limits of her freedom.  She drove to a political meeting south of the Rangoon River and was blockaded in her car by the police.  The European Union and the United States government, which had placed economic sanctions on Burma, both protested her detention but could not obtain her release.  The situation kept our embassy busy fielding...

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