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Chris Mabey – Whispers of Hope: A Family Memoir of Myanmar

Penguin Books

Paperback

ISBN 9789814954259

248 pages

Price £20.95

This is an unusual book; it is a hybrid of family story, search for identity, travelogue, and social commentary. The author is a British academic, married to April, whose family come from Myanmar (previously Burma).

Whispers of Hope tells the story of their early lives, courtship, and marriage, before relating the story of a series of trips back to Myanmar, to see family, explore roots, and lend support to a fledgling Bible School. The author describes his motivation for writing:

“I had originally set out to discover some of the hidden beauty of April, her country and her people, and felt I had done so with some success. Less anticipated was that, in the process, I found my spiritual centre of gravity shifting and my emotions churned. I was discovering as much about myself as the country I sought to understand.”

I guess that this is a common experience when, over an extended period we are exposed to another culture. As our understanding of the different layers and textures of a country grows, our preconceptions and prejudices are changed and so are we.

I would have liked a bit more nuance in reflecting on the relationship and difference between Christianity and Buddhism, and the ways this has had an impact on the nation’s history.

The author’s reflections on the complex political and social situation in Myanmar during the past three decades are particularly pertinent. They opened a few windows of understanding for me, that helped me get a better handle on what is going on behind the headlines.

The story of the country is perhaps summed up in the words of a young person’s newsfeed: ‘We were just learning to fly, and now they have broken our wings’.

John Woods is a writer and Bible teacher based in West Sussex. He is Director of Training at the School for Preachers in Riga, Latvia.

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