An epic, multigenerational story of courage and sacrifice set in a tropical dictatorship, the Rebel of Rangoon captures a gripping moment of possibility in Burma/Myanmar.
Once the shining promise of Southeast Asia, Burma in May 2009 ranks among the world’s most repressive and impoverished nations. Its ruling military junta seems at the height of its powers. But despite decades of constant brutality, and with their leader, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, languishing under house arrest, a shadowy fellowship of oddballs and misfits, young dreamers and wizened elders, bonded by the urge to say no to the system, refuses to relent. In the byways of Rangoon and through the pathways of Internet cafes, Nway, a maverick daredevil, Nigel, his ally and sometime rival, and Grandpa, the movement’s senior strategist who has just emerged from nineteen years in prison, prepare to fight a battle fifty years in the making.
When Burma was still sealed to foreign journalists, Delphine Schrank spent four years underground reporting among dissidents as they struggled to free their country. From prison cells and safe houses, The Rebel of Rangoon follows the inner life of Nway and his comrades to describe that journey, revealing in the process how a movement of dissidents came into being, how it almost died, and how it pushed its government to crack apart and begin an irreversible process of political reform. The result is a profoundly human exploration of daring and defiance and of the power and meaning of freedom.
“For decades, Burma has been shrouded in mystery as thick as the jungles that cover the country. Now, as it opens itself to the world, Delphine Schrank has pushed deep into the place and come away with the amazing story of the men and women who fought for democracy and human rights. At turns heartbreaking and inspiring, and rendered in writing as lush as the place itself, "The Rebel of Rangoon" is a necessary book about one of the great untold stories of our time.”
— Dexter Filkins, Pulitzer-Prize winner and best-selling author of The Forever War
"Gripping...captures the white-knuckle immediacy of the life in the shadows...Her tale could be called cinematic if it wasn't so disturbingly real, and contemporary...something Satrean about the rebels....Schrank's superb and timely book will give us an insight into some of the figures that have effected the party's transition from renegades to rulers."
- The Guardian
“Delphine Schrank has written an extraordinary book. It is the chronicle of an individual, and through him a chronicle of the experience of Burmese resistance to oppression in our time. Schrank is a brave and dedicated journalist who has witnessed first hand the experience she narrates, and who has an uncanny ability to convey this experience via language both simple and powerful. At the same time, her book is laced with the kind of serious political analysis characteristic of the best political science. Finally, it is also a brilliant account of a more universal experience of insubordination—refusal of subordination—and empowerment that brings to mind Albert Camus’s The Rebel. The Rebel of Rangoon is a terrific book that must be read to be believed. Read it.’
— Jeffrey C. Isaac, James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science, Indiana University, Bloomington
"How much did Nway, Nigel, and their youthful colleagues really achieve during their four years of underground organizing and protest? Schrank makes a persuasive case that their small acts of defiance kept the National League for Democracy relevant during the darkest days of the dictatorship, and prepared the way for its leading part in Myanmar’s post-junta politics... .an evocative reminder of how much has been achieved over five tumultuous years, and how far Myanmar has to go."
-- The New York Review of Books
"...a lush, novelistic narrative...Through the eyes of these two activist Everymen, we are immersed in the milieu of the Burmese underground. ....the reader is left with a vivid sense of what motivated ordinary people to oppose the military government, and the accretion of small frustrations that could tip a law-abiding citizen like Nigel — for whom politics previously “brought nothing but trouble” — into open dissidence."
-- The Los Angeles Review of Books
"We have desperately needed simple, reliable information about Myanmar, as well as alternative narratives, and on the whole we haven’t had either. Into this void arrives Delphine Schrank’s The Rebel of Rangoon. It is a most remarkable book. Schrank..., a reporter for the Washington Post, went into Myanmar, under cover of darkness, before its half-turn towards the light in 2012, and this book is a celebration of ordinary, grassroots Burmese dissidents that she lived with for four years. "
-- Oxford Today
"Remarkable... What Ms Schrank has written, however, is not a conventional journalist’s lament about an appalling regime. It reads like a novel, from the lush...prose of its descriptions to the omniscience of its narrator, whose main characters speak and think for themselves ...a massive and meticulous feat of reporting...an attempt to tell the story from the insiders’ perspective, and it works....She has a flair for loading description with more than visual imagery. A family of Burmese migrants fleeing across a river to Thailand on the inner tube of a tyre are “sopping and stick-thin, with nothing left to their name but résumés of cheap sweat”. Of the leader of a dissident NLD faction that broke with Miss Suu Kyi and took part in an election in 2010 despite the party’s boycott, she writes, accurately: “Still, in a starched shirt and deep green longyi [Burmese sarong], his thick hair neatly parted, his body lithe and taut, he conveyed to the outsider the spotlessness of a man of stature, or at least of one who had learned too well that when they took the rest away, all you had left was dignity."....The book gives a gripping account of the party’s debate over whether to take part in that election, under an undemocratic constitution that left the army with the final say....Ms Schrank’s rebels always understood this was to be a long battle."
"Delphine Schrank's stunning book...takes the reader into the clandestine world of the urban political operators that kept Burma's struggle for democracy alive...a forensically detailed story of their often subterranean struggle to avoid arrest, survive interrogation, keep their networks and cells active, and keep alive a dream for a more open and just society...Worthy of acquiring of the book in itself is its portrait of 'Grandpa.'...Schrank as an author is almost totally absent, rightly giving the narrative to Nway and his comrades, and it is this approach which makes the book so grippingly vivid. Schrank is a writer of rare skill and the narrative crackles with the restless activity of its protagonists, constantly evoking emotion, tension, atmosphere and menace." - David Scott Mathieson, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch, The Irrawaddy.
“This story of passion and sacrifice in the country also known as Burma is a fine companion piece to the politicking now in full swing there, on the threshold of what many hope will be the freest election for more than half a century. Schrank’s tale of the opposition underground during the decades of dictatorship is an insight into the forces shaping this Southeast Asian state — and, indeed, into others making the tough transition from authoritarian rule.”
— Financial Times
“Schrank’s passionate and moving narrative is written in a poetic style that from the outset elicits genuine emotion. With verve and lyricism the author tells the little-known story of the political upheaval of Burma and the struggle of a group of resisters who fought fiercely for democracy in their small, often overlooked country. This is not only an emphatically poignant chronicling of history but a truly illuminating analysis of a human struggle. The politically aware will be engrossed by the depth of detail and personal challenges described in the book, while history enthusiasts will be gripped by the meticulous attention paid to the events that led to the political crisis. This enlightening work has the potential to impact the canon of contemporary political science. It is readable, enjoyable, and destined to become a staple for anyone wishing to learn more about Asian history or the world at large. An important portrayal of a serious global issue that has been largely ignored.”
— Library Journal (STARRED Review)
“The Rebel of Rangoon is the remarkable odyssey of unseen heroes in the struggle to build democracy out of Burma’s shadows and darkness. Delphine Schrank writes with passion and sensitivity about the quest for liberty in a time of tyranny. The story is inspiring yet agonizing; the characters unforgettable; the dream noble—and yet so painfully incomplete.”
—David E. Hoffman, Pulitzer-Prize winner and best-selling author of The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy and The Billion-Dollar Spy
"...a very human look into the inhumanities of a regime that has made a habit of shooting student protesters and jailing human-rights advocates.." -- The Wall Street Journal
"..an intrepid exploration...a timely primer...the real hero of the book is Nway, whose odyssey through the labyrinthine network of underground activism Schrank details with sympathy. Anyone wondering what an idealistic, brave and obsessed young Burmese rebel does from day to day need read no further than this fly-on-the-wall reconstruction of Nway's daily grind."
-- The Washington Post
“A dogged journalist penetrates the deeply secretive dissident underground in Burma's police state in this compelling look into a traumatized society in flux. During her time as the Burma correspondent for the Washington Post, Schrank, now a contributing editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, delved into this highly censored, authoritarian country of largely Buddhist citizens at her peril to record how the state has gradually cracked open to some democratic currents since 2011. She chronicles the lives of two "rebels," rivals in the democratic movement, whose tireless struggles to effect peaceful change since the first student uprising of 1988—despite beatings, imprisonment, and torture—represent the efforts of an entire population pushing against the successive Burmese military dictatorships since independence in 1947. Under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was anointed by the people when she returned from England to care for her mother in 1988, the National League for Democracy began a well-oiled, tenacious freedom struggle—even though its leaders were persecuted relentlessly, and Aung herself was placed under house arrest for the next 15 years. Schrank finagled her way inside Burmese society, slipping by suspicious military authorities to access the leaders of the democratic underground, whom she followed in Rangoon like "a fly on the wall." These include "Nway," a 30-something Twantay native, chosen by "Auntie" (Aung) as a natural activist leader and able to organize protests and vigils despite being pursued relentlessly by the "Dogs," the secret intelligence agents; "Nigel," his charismatic counterpart and a teacher of English caught up in the political struggle of the "Saffron Generation" and radicalized by incarceration; and "Grandpa," aka U Win Tin, a man of letters released from prison in 2008 after nearly 20 years and resolved never to renounce future political activity. Throughout the book, Schrank displays an elegant style and determined journalist's diligence. A remarkable chronicle of a multigenerational struggle in Burma bringing about important change.”
—Kirkus (STARRED Review)