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Chroniques birmanes by Guy Delisle
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Chroniques birmanes (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Guy Delisle

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481None21,688 (4.08)41
Member:SGallay
Title:Chroniques birmanes
Authors:Guy Delisle
Info:Delcourt (2007), Edition: DELCOURT, Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:voyage, Birmanie, Myanmar, bande dessinée

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Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle (2007)

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English (25)  Dutch (3)  French (2)  Danish (1)  German (1)  All languages (32)
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Burma is an isolated country in Southeast Asia, second in its secrecy only to North Korea. Ruled since the early 1960s by a repressive military regime, it is a country whose citizens are controlled through fear and censorship. It is also a country where 87% of the population is Buddhist, and Buddhism very much permeates daily life, providing an essential lens through which people view their individual situations.

Guy Delisle is a cartoonist who comes to live in Burma for a year because his wife works for Médecins Sans Frontières (aka Doctors Without Borders), a humanitarian aid NGO specializing in providing free medical treatment to people living in conflict areas. The couple have a young son, a toddler named Louis, and Guy is a stay-at-home dad in addition to his cartooning work.

The book is laid out in a series of short stories and vignettes focusing on experiences Guy has as he grows accustomed to life in Burma. The absurdities, injustices, and tragedies that the Burmese citizens endure on a daily basis are gradually revealed as Guy himself struggles with adjusting to a level of comfort below his first world expectations. While it's easy to target Guy's complaints as petty in contrast to the experiences of the Burmese around him, this contrast feels true and accurate, and does not detract from the portrait of the Burmese as a humble, generous, and intelligent people that emerges throughout the text. There is also the consideration that while this book is based on Delisle's experiences, the character of Guy is not necessarily a direct portrayal of the author and should not be judged as such (see: biographical fallacy, the most common pitfall I've found while surveying negative criticism of this and other similar travelogue books by Delisle). This character likely does not represent a single, actual person, but rather is an amalgamation of viewpoints, stereotypes, and anecdotes that Delisle has encountered during his travels. As such, this character can be read as more of a commentary on prevalent attitudes and impressions of Westerners toward developing countries and their citizens (in this case, Burmese people), as well as on the behavior of many Westerners when visiting said countries.

What is strange is the rather flat portrayal of Guy's wife Nadège. While it's possible she did not want to play much of a role in the book or Delisle did not want her to for some reason, her presence as a background figure with little personality still feels off. Likewise is the erratic inclusion of Guy's son in the book. Given that Guy is the primary caregiver during this period, it's odd that there are many stories where Louis does not appear at all. But these irregularites also underline the fact that this book is not so much a memoir as it is a collection of somewhat random anecdotes, often ending with a kitschy final panel, interspersed with a few longer, more serious stories. One of the more poignant of the latter comes near the end of Guy's time in Burma, when he undertakes a three-day meditation retreat at a Buddhist temple. This was one of the best stories and a fitting way to close out the book.

Overall, the book offers a small piece of the intriguing puzzle that is Burma, although it is of course much less about everyday life in Burma for a Burmese person than it is about the life of an ex-pat, living in the VIP area of the capital and enjoying the relative perks of the ex-pat lifestyle. Along with that, readers get an insider portrayal of and light commentary on the foreign diplomat/NGO/humanitarian aid community that exists in virtually every developing country around the world. With casual finesse, Delisle manages to capture the stark dichotomy that often characterizes this community, where in certain cases it is questionable how much is actually getting accomplished and at what expense.

( )
  S.D. | Apr 5, 2014 |
On par with chronicles of the holy city. ( )
  questbird | Feb 6, 2014 |
This could certainly be just a biting commentary on the horrors of dictatorships, but why bother with the funnies, then? Delisle is a a comics artist who blends politics, daily life, and the funnies very well. His observations at times are removed, as he was, in Burma, kind of out of the loop from the political developments. Perhaps some of the funniest moments in the book are his parenting adventures. The world does not need yet another book about the horrors of dictatorships, nor one about the horrors of the dictatorship in Burma, but a book about how people live their daily lives with the backdrop of the alarming spread of malaria and HIV, the struggles of the transnationals for gas and oil, the silent war between the NGOs and the Burmese government to help the oppressed minorities, that book is here, thanks to Delisle. ( )
  bluepigeon | Dec 15, 2013 |
There is so much packed into this 200+ travelogue about living in Burma. DeLisle's wife Nadege is a French aid worker with Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) on assignment in Burma. Guy and infant son Louis travel with her and Guy spends his time teaching about comics, touring the country and writing about his observations. Burma Chronicles is Guy's account of their time in Burma from every angle from weather to architecture to malaria and AIDS to politics.. From the very beginning there is subtle humor (just look at the square for mom, dad & son and their luggage on page 3), but at the same time he tackles the politics of the country (his infatuation with seeing Aung San Suu Kyi's house is cute). ( )
  SeriousGrace | Nov 3, 2013 |
Guy Delisle accompanied his wife to Burma while she spent a year as a humanitarian worker there. They also took their son and Delisle functioned as a stay-at-home dad most of the time. He also continued his writing, drawing and animation work, including teaching locals about the art of animation. I found this graphic memoir to be fascinating as he writes about things like shopping in a foreign grocery store, joining a "moms' group" as the only dad, attending expatriate social functions, as well as living under a strict dictatorship. (little understatement there) It was refreshing to hear the perspective of an author from Quebec, espelcially. While in Burma Delisle and his family took vacations to places most people will never see, visited forbidden territories where his wife's clinics were operating and took a meditation retreat at a Buddhist monastery. I found the most interesting part to be discussions of foreign aid (these were medical relief and treatment) and the pros and cons of giving aid - pros and cons for the receivers that is. Interesting descriptions and analyses were also given regarding the motivation and purposes of those working in the field, and often motives were mixed. I very much enjoyed this visit to Burma and will be following through with Delisle's books on China and North Korea, as well as parenting. ( )
1 vote mkboylan | Jun 1, 2013 |
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Guy Delisleprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dascher, HelgeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Voor Nadège
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En? Waar sturen ze ons naartoe?
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original title: Chroniques Birmanes
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Guy Delisle uses a graphic novel format to reflect on the experiences he had while working in a Burma--Myanmar--where his wife's career allowed him to explore Burma's rural and impoverished regions.

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