Guy Delisle is a French-Canadian cartoonist-cum-memoirist who travelled around Asia (accompanied mostly by his wife, an administrator with Doctors Without Borders), and created four timeless graphic travelogues based on his experiences in North Korea, China, Israel, and, of course, Burma. The ruthless dictatorship under which the nation has survived for decades is brought to life delicately and with a rare kind of sensitivity by Delisle. His lens of a visitor, a temporary resident, a husband, also a father is always filled with awe, wonder, even occasional disappointment, but not contemptuous even in the most outlandish situations.
Don’t get misled though by his delightfully whimsical drawings and vignettes of the local life; Burma Chronicles is political reportage of the highest order. At the core of this vividly chronicled authoritarian regime is an unmistakable humanitarian heart that’s evident in each chapter of this family’s everyday life in a foreign land.
We come across Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s heavily guarded home where she was held as a political prisoner, visit a Buddhist place of worship, celebrate Canada Day with fellow expats, go on an evocative field trip to the city of Myitkyina – all this while constantly perspiring and panting with the artist/author as the palpable, humid climate of Burma gently transforms into one of the characters in the volume while he walks, cycles, and pushes a baby stroller around its busy lanes.
Delisle is not afraid to make you encounter the travesties and horrors of an autocracy – from heavy government censorship to heroin addictions and HIV epidemics (even touches upon a refugee crisis in one episode). The artist’s voice is neutral and uncannily detached throughout, but the readers aren’t spared the effects of what unravels on the page.
Burma Chronicles, originally written in French, was published in 2007. Possibilities of democratic reforms in the country had started growing around 2011, but Myanmar’s military launched a coup again in February 2021, cracked down on protests, and crushed all hopes for progress, returning the nation to a state of military rule once again. Eerily enough as a result, the book never feels dated.