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The Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi

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A biography of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the world’s most renowned freedom fighters and advocates of non-
violence, and the figurehead for Burma’s struggle for democracy. Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, she has dedicated her life to the liberation of her country.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published April 5, 2007

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Justin Wintle

29 books4 followers

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5 stars
90 (27%)
4 stars
145 (44%)
3 stars
68 (21%)
2 stars
16 (4%)
1 star
4 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 35 reviews
Profile Image for Christine.
6,673 reviews490 followers
March 12, 2018
UPDATE: not changing the book's rating, but am noting that Aung San Suu Kyi's response to the attacks on the Rohingya. After reading this book, I find her lack of response is very disapointing. I know heroes are human and politics, but no, what as happened and is happening to the Rohingya is just wrong, and blaming the press, don't use Orange tatics. The book is still good, and I would read an update or part 2 by Wintle.

This book is very good. It should be noted, however, that the Kindle edition, at least, does not reach as far as Aung San Suu Kyi's 2010 release.

This book is actually more about Burma and its troubles, wars, and fight for independence. It actually is a must read to understand what is going on now. Wintle does a very good job of making it easy for the reader to follow the history and gives the reader enough background. He also presents, as much as he can, an even handed view of Aung San Suu Kyi. Though, to be fair, it seems as if the reader gets a better idea of her parents than of her. Still, it does make the Burma events much easier to understand. I wish I had read this in 2007 for I while I followed the rebellion and knew about Aung San Suu Kyi, I think I would've understood much more (you should also check out the documentry Burma VJ).
Profile Image for Michael Gerald.
383 reviews45 followers
April 16, 2017
A timely read, in light of Suu Kyi's - and her party's - win in the by-elections. Informative, depressing, and sometimes even funny.

The military junta had turned Burma into another slave state almost at par with North Korea. A group of ageing, poorly educated, corrupt, and bloodthirsty generals, the junta had enslaved the Burmese for fifty years, all under the pretext of "protecting" them from the "imperialist and neocolonialist Western powers". But they can't bully with their guns and clubs Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo, and other pro-democracy advocates in this abused, battered and bruised land. May Suu Kyi's win be the beginning of the end for Burma's suffering and slowly usher in the path to democracy, justice, reconciliation, and progress.

* I read this book more than two years ago, but I revise my review of it. Aung San Suu Kyi's credibility as a champion of human rights could be under a cloud due to her silence on the plight of the Rohingya people under her own people and the government which she is now a part of.
Profile Image for Ron Wroblewski.
589 reviews103 followers
July 16, 2023
Initially I was disappointed as the first 1/4 of the book was Burma's history; then the next 1/4 was about Aung San Suu Kyi's father who spent his life fighting for Burma's independence from Britain and Japan. The last half of the book was Suu Kyi's life. It's a shame that after gaining independence Burma was taken over by the military, who used brutal force to keep control. Suu Kyi preached non-violence but that didn't keep her from being confined in house arrest for many years. An eye opening book on Burma.
I book only goes to 2007 so I did internet search to see what has happened to her since then. She has become part of the new government but the same struggles are still going on.
Profile Image for Philip.
Author 8 books127 followers
February 4, 2016
Justin Wintle’s Perfect Hostage – A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi is not a book with a particularly perfect title. It sounds like it will be a simply a biography, and perhaps a rather fawning one, of a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, perhaps erring on the side of hero worship.
In fact Justin Wintle’s book presents much more than this. It does document the life, examine the politics and describe the actions of its dedicatee. But it also traces her background, both personal and public, and considers the status of her family in Burmese national consciousness. It describes in some detail the life of her legendary father, General Aung San. But Perfect Hostage is even more again. The book provides a wonderful account of Burma’s recent history, examining the politics, the role of the military and popular movements and then in more recent times the responses of the dictatorship in precise and informative detail. Passages that describe Burma’s participation in the Second World War are particularly illuminating, especially when juxtaposed with the course of later events.
From this account of her life, Aung San Suu Kyi emerges as a rather paradoxical figure. She is cast as both assertive in her commitment to do something for her country, and simultaneously ponderous in her apparent unwillingness to grasp opportunities when they arise. Again paradoxically we appreciate her determination to seek change, alongside her reluctance to destabilise. Her ultimate aim appears to be unification, but this may be in itself unachievable, since the diversity of interests at play may proveirreconcilable.
Throughout, via Justin Wintle’s admirably constructed work, we appreciate the contribution of Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband, Michael Aris, to his wife’s achievement. Together they shared personal, intellectual and political interests in Burma, interests that eventually led to action. This joint desire to act may have eventually have led to a separation, but that separation was merely corporal, since the couple’s joint motivation continued to thrive. And, via its consideration of Michael Aris’s role in events, Perfect Hostage eventually presents a wonderfully rounded and complete account of the personal, family and public life that Aung San Suu Kyi has led.
The book is surprising in its scope, its depth and its scholarship, but only because its title suggest something rather less than comprehensive. An example of the detail the book presents will illustrate. Justin Wintle relates some of the personal proclivities of Ne Win, Burma’s military ruler for many years. “If he travelled outside the capital, he did so in a flight of helicopters, his staff having made sure that all stray dogs in the vicinity – especially those with crooked tails – had been rounded up and slaughtered. For Ne Win was fearful of stray dogs – especially those with crooked tails...” Following on from this, we are told that when Ne Win was warned of an impending assassination attempt, he would trample in his bedroom on the entrails of a dog or in a bowl of pig’s blood and then “he would raise his revolver... and shoot himself in the mirror.” You just cannot make this up.
Human history, it seems, is full of such ridiculous detail. But it is also full of honesty, endeavour and idealism. Justin Wintle’s portrayal of Aung San Suu Kyi is replete with all of these qualities.
Profile Image for Michelle.
2,339 reviews57 followers
May 16, 2008
This was a very serious biography, and at times a tough read. The author, an historian, has never in fact met his subject, but drew upon other sources, causing a bit of a disconnected feel, and he began with an involved study of the history of Burma, followed by a biography of Suu Kyi's father Aung San, and then finally on to Suu Kyi's life itself. But it was worth the wait and the plowing through difficult, similar-sounding names and impossible-to-remember acronyms. The courage and determination of Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, comes shining through anyway. The author even tried, I think, to be detached, but I doubt it is possible to encouner someone like Suu Kyi and not be changed. The tragedies of her life (she was not even allowed to see her dying husband, her two sons have been allowed to visit her only a few times, she's been almost totally isolated for so many years) only provide a backdrop to her courage. An amazing woman, and with Burma in the news again today, her country needs her example like never before, although the junta seems to have things so locked up that there will never be hope in Burma.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
(Emily Dickinson)
Praying for Suu Kyi and her country.

Profile Image for Kelsey Sloan.
6 reviews
July 5, 2009
This was a great book for modern Burmese history, if the sentence structure was occasionally difficult to follow. I read it because I wanted to know more about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as well as have a better understanding of Burmese history in relation to her father. I learned a lot about Burma from the early 1900s to present day and her life, but occasionally felt that Wintle was so optimistic and hopeful for the future in relation to his subject that he failed to account for the current status of her as a leader and what might be best for Burma. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone looking to know more about Burma since 1900 and to understand Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's biography through about 2000.
Profile Image for Lynne.
457 reviews34 followers
January 3, 2010
It took me almost a month to finish this book, but I am glad I perservered. It starts extremely slowly, but the historical context is necessary in order to understand Aung San Suu Kyi's position. I knew nothing about Burma beyond the headline and now feel somewhat well-informed.
Profile Image for Mona.
176 reviews1 follower
November 6, 2014
There are some bright spots among the tediously written historical segments that jump back and forth in time. Just as I would nearly give up on the book in exasperation, then it would come alive in an interesting way once again. This happened over and over.
Profile Image for Matt Ockmond.
193 reviews2 followers
December 15, 2011
I really enjoyed this book. It's dense with information about the history of Burma, and how it relates to Aung San Suu Kyi. I could easily see rereading this one.
December 5, 2018
I never thought I would finish this biography, but I did thanks to its fascinating storytelling. Once you learned to skim read names, and changes to names. So sad.
387 reviews
October 20, 2010
A text book of Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi-born 1945. Left Burma at age 15 when her mother became Ammbasador to India.(1960-67)
Mother, Khin Kyi, was a nurse. In Burma, teaching was an esteemed calling, not nursing.

School in England in 1964. Published 7 books. Winner of Nobel peace prize in 1991.
Returned in 1988 (28 years later) when her mother had a stroke. Married to Michael Aris in 1972 at Chelsea Town Hall, Kings Road, London. Two sons, Alexander and Kim. Michael died in 1999 of cancer

Spoke at rallies in 1988. Formed NLD, the National League of Democracy. Junta put her in house arrest in 1989 and Burma was re-named Myanmar. Landslide vistory in 1990 but junta did not give in. She secretly sent information to BBC and Amnesty International.Would not advocate violence. Demonstrations brutally put down, thousnds killed over the years.

Aung San Suu Kyi may be released "so she can organize her party," for the upcoming Burmese general election. However, Suu Kyi will not be allowed to run.On 1 October 2010 the government announced that she would be released on November 13, 2010.
Burma's relaxing stance, such as releasing political prisoners was influenced in the wake of successful recent diplomatic visits by the US and other Democratic governments, urging of encouraging the Burmese towards democratic reform.

Aung San, her father fought for freedom from Britain, hoping Japan would bring independence in 1942. Was assinated in 1947. The Japanese carried on their tradition of "comfort women" in Burma as they did in all their conquored lands.

Burma was conquored by Kublai Khan in 1279, Marco Polo being his spy.
Capital moved from Amarapura to Mandalay, built by king Mindon in 1857. He had a pregnant woman buried alive in the palace to ward off evil spirits.
Britain ended Burmese monarchy in 1885, ousting King Thibaw.. Left in 1948.Union of Burma founded.Rangoon the capital during British rule.

Military coup in 1962 under Ne Win. Tatmadaw is the Burmese army. Karens pursecuted.

Capital is now NayPyiDaw

2007 Monks revolt called "the Saffron Uprising"

Called "The lady" and "The lady by the Lake" as to mention her name could mean prison.

Protesters have the option of three years hard labour, life imprisonment or execution.

Sanctions, not allowing Burmese to attend foreign universities and disuading tourism by the rest of the world may have backfired. Burma pushed further into friends with China.
In 1991, 183 tons of heroin were being exported a year. land for growin gpoppies increased by 80%. Thousands of burmese girls sold into prostitution.

Diarchy Government by two joint rulers. ... Diarchy is one of the oldest forms of government. Diarchies are known from ancient Sparta, Rome, Carthage as well as from Germanic and Dacian tribes. Several ancient Polynesian societies exhibited a diarchic political structure as well. The diarchs hold their position for life and pass the responsibilities and power of the position to their children or family when they die.

Profile Image for Vicky Pinpin-Feinstein.
64 reviews4 followers
February 1, 2014
While it was useful to read about Aung San Suu Kyi especially in light of her now active participation in Burma's political life, I found the writing style of this book quite irritating. I read the book while doing a project on Burma for a bilateral development assistance agency, or as the political elites there would insist, the name is Myanmar, not Burma One, of course, has to understand, that while Aung San Suu Kyi, is well respected across the world, she and her family, already has that, even before she became the most famous of political detainees on house arrest for a number of years. Her father has secured the family's position and is regarded as the father of independence after the British left. While what she has done is commendable by any standards, I think something more uniquely about her would have made the story telling more refreshing. My own take on it is that while her life before detention was nothing extraordinary, an accounting of what really prodded her to do what she did was not adequately explained in the book. That was my extreme disappointment in this book. Also, the author seems biased from the outset and does not take away his "admiring lens" away from his subject to delve deeper into what constitutes an authentic biography. This is perhaps the problem with a book that says at the beginning is a book that was written without her consent or participation. I think this is so important for such a figure as Aung San Suu Kyi.
81 reviews19 followers
December 30, 2014
I am so inspired by this incredible woman but I felt that this book didn't represent her. This was a massive biography and I was hoping to learn a lot about her that I wouldn't have been able to learn in a Wikipedia article. Well, I learned a lot about Burma and her father and mother but I didn't feel like I knew her any better from before I read this book. It was good to get the historical background about Burma and the struggles these people were facing but the author went a little overboard. Aung San Suu Kyi's name wasn't even mentioned until around 200 pages in or so. This was a great informational book for people who want to know more about Burma's struggles but not for people who want to learn about Aung San Suu Kyi herself.
42 reviews
June 13, 2011
This book at first was meant for research purposes as I started to pick out quotes from this book, I started to become interested in reading it. I felt that the main character, Aung San Suu Kyi, was really courageous and brave in having to face the military regime of her country. She was still a peaceful protester even when she recieved 15 years of house arrest. What surprised me alot was how much she was willing to risk and sacrifice to help Burma with their struggle for a new government. She devoted nearly her whole life to work on this and I thought that this truly made her a hero.
Profile Image for Roniq.
198 reviews10 followers
Want to read
April 18, 2008
An account of the Nobel Laureate who is under house arrest in Burma(Myanmar) by the Country's repressive Military Government. A look at the Burmese Culture and History, relationship to India and the practice of Buddhism among other things. I'm fascinated by Burma and would love to know more about the country.
Profile Image for Harrison.
25 reviews15 followers
May 9, 2010
Aung San Suu Kyi's life provides a great narrative structure to the sometimes confusing history of Burma. However, Wintle's praise of Suu Kyi sometimes borders on adulation. Aung San Suu Kyi is certainly deserving of praise, but by focusing only on her merits, Wintle doesn't present a well-rounded biography.
Profile Image for Crystal.
573 reviews
January 22, 2013
Although this is a biography of Aung San Suu Kyi, it is also a history of Burma. Suu Kyi's bravery and conviction are inspiring, but the fact that such a repressive government could exist into this century is frustrating. In many ways Burma is a case study on the limits of the power of the international community and of concerned citizens to resist authoritarianism.
Profile Image for Jan.
58 reviews
October 8, 2008
Really just intended to skim this tome and before I knew it I was really reading. Heroic and inspirational, Suu Kyi's struggle is up there with all of the other "greats" of civil right activists as a aymbol against oppression.
11 reviews2 followers
September 15, 2009
A lot of information, some parts more interesting than others. Gave an introduction to the political backdrop and historical context of what's going on in Burma, so for that I appreciated it. May be a hard read if you aren't connected to the people or the country at all.
Profile Image for Nerissa.
149 reviews
July 27, 2011
Great insight into Burma's struggle for democracy. Makes you appreciate how many freedoms we take for granted like catching up with friends discussing politics and not get arrested or going on a peaceful demonstration march without fear of been shot, arrested and tortured.
Profile Image for Susan.
560 reviews14 followers
April 30, 2012
I actually didn't read the entire book -- I started on page 150 because I was really interested in Suu Kyi at the moment and wasn't ready to read about Burma's early history and about Suu Kyi's father. I read this while in Burma and learned a lot.
Profile Image for April.
1 review3 followers
May 5, 2012
I might be biased having born and raised first part of my life in Burma.
Great read on Burmese history and Suu Kyi's decision to take responsibility -- even putting priority for her country over her family.
Profile Image for Jeff Brailey.
70 reviews14 followers
July 30, 2008
An excellent history of Burma in general and well researched biography of Aung San Suu Kyi in particular.
Profile Image for Ruds.
72 reviews13 followers
April 1, 2010
After months of searching, bookstore after bookstore, Doha and Manila, finally found one...This is presently on top of my currently-reading list
5 reviews
March 2, 2011
an amazing book. The lady had such an amazing story to tell. Everyone should read it. She is an excellent example of what humans can accomplish and stand for.
Profile Image for Paul Dubal.
Author 7 books7 followers
November 15, 2011
This book was well researched and superbly portrays the terrible events in Burma and the bravery of one woman. The military junta made my skin crawl.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 35 reviews

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