cover image Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's Prisoner of Conscience

Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's Prisoner of Conscience

Justin Wintle, . . Skyhorse, $27.95 (464pp) ISBN 978-1-60239-266-3

Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi seems both the least likely and the most natural person to become “the world's best-known prisoner of conscience,” and Wintle's thoroughly engrossing book magnificently illustrates both sides of this elusive yet very public figure. Her education at Oxford and self-effacing demeanor did not prime her for the life of a dissident. Behind her reserve and English veneer, however, was a resolutely stubborn streak and a family life steeped in politics. Wintle's research has been prodigious; he brings encyclopedic knowledge of just about anything that can be linked to Suu Kyi. In rendering his subject, he weaves in Burmese history and folklore, Buddhism, Indian politics and portraits of Suu Kyi's intimates and enemies; that he delivers all this in an absorbing fashion is a marvel. Entertaining and instructive, charming and persuasive, Wintle mingles sober history and gossipy chat. Obscure political in-fighting is made comprehensible; unfamiliar colonial history is made accessible. Still, Wintle (Romancing Vietnam ; Furious Interiors ) can skewer in a sentence (“About Sanjay [Gandhi] there was something palpably uncouth, while the vainglorious Rajiv [Gandhi] was lacking in intelligence”). Suu Kyi's developing political activism, her house arrests, her honors are delineated in draftsman's detail that Wintle manages to keep vibrant. He is a biographer smitten with his subject, who cares enough to note the smallest detail, such as that Suu Kyi prefers Simenon's Maigret to Christie's Poirot. In making the reader care about the smallest things, Wintle makes the reader really care about the big thing—that “the world's best-known prisoner of conscience” is not free. (Apr.)