Karen Connelly: What I learned from Aung San Suu Kyi

BurmeseLessons-200.jpgFirst aired on The Current (11/18/10)

On Saturday, November 13, Aung San Suu Kyi walked free for the first time in years. The pro-democracy leader spent more than seven continuous years under house arrest by the military government that runs Burma, also known as Myanmar. She was released after her latest term of detention expired.

It was a scene that touched many people around the world, including Canadian author Karen Connelly. Connelly's most recent book, Burmese Lessons, can really be divided into two parts. The first is the story of falling in love with a country and its people. The second is a more traditional romance, where Connelly heads to Thailand and falls deeply in love with Muang --: a handsome and charismatic leader of a Burmese guerrilla group.

In the mid-1990s, Connelly traveled to Burma to do research on political prisoners and their treatment by the military government. Her trip inspired her first novel, The Lizard Cage. It also meant she had the opportunity to interview numerous political prisoners. One of those prisoners was Aung San Suu Kyi.

Recently, Connelly spoke with The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti about her experiences interviewing the pro-democracy leader. On November 16, The Current featured its own interview with Suu Kyi, which was conspicuous in its brevity. Suu Kyi's answers were short and exact.

According to Connelly, that's not unusual.

"She does have a tendency to not indulge simple questions. If the questions are not about policy or about very specific elements of what's happening on the Burmese scene, she will just answer in the most simple way that she can," Connelly said. "She's very, very non-dramatizing. She's not going to give you more than the bare facts."

Connelly interviewed Suu Kyi during a brief period of relaxed house arrest during 1995 and 1996. Suu Kyi was able to grant interviews to journalists, writers and other interested individuals. During the half hour of access granted to Connelly, they spoke about books, and Suu Kyi even requested that Connelly bring her a particular book at a later date, if possible.

"She's not intimidating, she's actually very forthcoming and very generous," Connelly later said. "It was very hard to approach her as simply a regular person, but that's because she's not really only a regular person. She's as human as you and me, but she's in an extraordinary position."




Related Content:

Hear The Current's interview with Aung San Suu Kyi

Read more about Aung San Suu Kyi's release on CBC News.

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