cover image Sargent: Twilight Over Burma Paper

Sargent: Twilight Over Burma Paper

Inge Sargent. University of Hawaii Press, $16.99 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-8248-1628-5

Sargent's sad, exotic story survives her deeply flawed telling of it, but she would have been better advised to stick with a straightforward memoir. While at school in Colorado in the early '50s, the Austrian-born author met and married fellow student Sao Kya Seng. Because he wanted a wife who would marry him ``for the right reasons,'' Sao chose not to tell Inge he was prince of Hsipaw, one of 34 independent Shan states in northeastern Burma (although the convertible Nash Rambler and the ruby-and-diamond engagement ring might have tipped her off.) For eight years the couple presided over the modernization of their small state, sadly unaware of the weak poltical leadership plaguing Burma since the 1947 assassination of General Aung San (father of jailed Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi). Then in 1962, General Ne Win seized power and Sao disappeared. Shadowed by Ne Win's men, Sargent waited desperately for news of her husband, until two years later friends convinced her to escape to Austria. Sargent's descriptions of life in the small, tropical state and of her machinations to smuggle out her daughters (both Burmese citizens) are strong enough to withstand her unconvincing re-creation of decades-old dialogue (even extensive sections on the vanished Sao's unknowable last thoughts) and the near-fatal decision to write in third person. Much of the book smacks of writing school exercises and the gutsy author often seems self-indulgent in descriptions of herself: ``this attractive and unusual girl had constantly been on his mind. Her warmth, her cheerfulness, and her poise made him long for her company.'' (Sept.)