Magazine article The Spectator

Port after Stormy Seas, Ease after War

Magazine article The Spectator

Port after Stormy Seas, Ease after War

Article excerpt

A WORLD OVERTURNED: A BURMESE CHILDHOOD, 1933-47 by Maureen Baird-Murray Constable, IS, pp. 224

This compelling story begins, like Carmen, in a cigarette factory, with a peasant girl and a man in uniform. In the early 1930s Edward Rossiter, a superintendent in the Burma Frontier Service, is overcome by the sight of Khin Nyun whom he spies packing cheroots. Soon afterwards they marry.

Photographs testify to her doll-like beauty, and marriage to Burmese girls was not as taboo as mixed marriage was in India, where the caste system made such a match practically impossible for Rossiter, a tall and clean-cut Anglo-Irishman in the classic mould of the colonial administrator.

A daughter is born, the book's author. At first the child's world is idyllic - all jasmine flowers and the scent of sweet peas. Then it begins to darken. In 1938, when not yet five years old, and speaking only Burmese, she is taken suddenly and without explanation to a boarding school run by Italian nuns. Here she meets the dreadful Sister Seraphina who scolds and beats her mercilessly, foaming at the mouth as she wields the cane. The abuse stops only when she blurts out one day that she wants to become a Catholic.

Her mother visits infrequently, her father almost never, and she is dimly aware of something amiss. Then her mother starts taking her out of school to stay in the village in which she herself had grown up. Life here is bliss for the child, but after a while she notices a change in her mother. At the end of term, in December 1941, no one comes to fetch her from school. On Christmas Day the Japanese bomb Rangoon.

Japanese soldiers arrive at the convent a few months later and she never sees, or hears from, her parents again. The nuns, being Italian, are treated suspiciously by their allies but generally left alone, and the child, with neutrals' status as the daughter of an Irishman (the nuns concealing the material facts), is not interned. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.