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From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,095 Ratings  ·  139 Reviews
Winner of the 2002 Kiriyama Prize in Nonfiction

The astonishing story of a young man's upbringing in a remote tribal village in Burma and his journey from his strife-torn country to the tranquil quads of Cambridge. In lyrical prose, Pascal Khoo Thwe describes his childhood as a member of the Padaung hill tribe, where ancestor worship and communion with spirits blended with
Paperback, 336 pages
Published December 2nd 2003 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2002)
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Burma for my Around-the-World reading tour.

"‘My ancestors told me it was after the beginning,’ said my grandmother, Mu Tha, adjusting her head on the log she was using as a pillow. Her brass neck-rings gleamed in the candlelight. The rings were fourteen inches high and rose to her head as though they were supporting a pagoda stupa….we sat at her feet massaging her legs and shoulders as we listened to the story….”

So begins this strange, magical story of a young man from the Kayan or Padaung tribe
Growing up, I knew of the country Burma. I knew of Aung San Suu Kyi and that it was terrible she was locked up in her house. I knew Burma was a dictatorship, and depending who you talked to, the word "communist" was thrown around now and then. And... that's about it.

So after my fail of a read for Burma earlier in the tour, I really wanted to make sure I read a book that taught me something about the country. So when someone in our Around the World group suggested a book written by a member of th
Jan 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
I was given a copy of Paschal Khoo Thwe’s From the Land of the Green Ghosts by a couple from our church. He is from India and she from Burma. The copy was signed by the author! The autobiographical book is divided into three parts. In the first part Pascal describes his young life, his family, food, the fascinating cultural life of Burma, particularly his own Padaung ethnic group, the beautiful Burman countryside, and the political history of Burma. We see here the general happiness Paschal enjo ...more
Apr 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
I loved this book. The author is amazingly honest and humble about his extraordinary life. His description of the Burmese landscape is so beautiful, especially when he writes about the remote areas where he grew up. It is partially a story about why armed struggle is sometimes necessary. However it is more a story about how life is much more complex then the rhetoric used to talk about religion, war, socialism and freedom. I learned so much about Burma through Pascal Khoo Thwe's story. I also le ...more
Andrew Pham
May 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A humorous touching read. I really like this one. Pascal has terrific eyes for tones and details. I'll be re-reading it for my upcoming trip to Burma. Can't wait to swim the Andaman Sea off Burma's coastline!
Jul 31, 2017 added it
Shelves: memoir
A rather remarkable memoir, less about the author's experiences at Cambridge than the circumstances that led him there, which is a shame, because I would have liked to have heard more about the radical culture shift. However, the meat of the thing is more than good enough, simply because this is a world that exists like a five-hour drive from my house but is so, so, so far from anything I've experienced, even though I've been to a fair number of the places he describes. As a memoir, beautifully ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
Apr 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
‘Central Burma is an alien land, the abode of evil spirits, green ghosts and the like –‘

Pascal Khoo Thwe was born in 1967, in a remote village in Burma. This memoir details his life from his childhood as a member of an extended family of a headman of the Kayan people in southern Shan State; his journey through conflict-ridden Burma; and finally his life in Britain.

Pascal Khoo Thwe is a member of the Kayan Padaung tribe – best known for the brass neck rings worn by women which create the effect o
Harry Rutherford
From the Land of Green Ghosts is an autobiography. Pascal Khoo Thwe is from the Padaung ethnic minority in Burma — best known for the brass neck-rings worn by the women which elongate their necks — and was brought up with both the local animist traditions and Catholicism; the two religious traditions seem to have coexisted rather more easily than a strict reading of Catholic theology might allow.

He went to a Catholic seminary but later decided he didn’t want to be a priest, and instead went to u
Jan 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Pascal Khoo Thwe is a Padaung villager from Burma's (Myanmar's) highlands who offers his memoirs in FtLoGG. I was reading this in preparation for a trip to Myanmar, which clarified some of the country's history between the demise of the Aung San, revered as the founder of modern Burma and assassinated in 1947, to the flagging days of Ne Win's military dictatorship, succeeded by General Saw Maung in 1988. While a university student in the late 1980s, he meets a Cambridge don who successfully resc ...more
Feb 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
From the Land of Green Ghosts is a memoir of a man, born of the Kayan Paduang tribe in Burma, who grew up cultured in a combination of animistic notions, Catholicism, and a repressive regime that would massacre thousands of its own citizens in the 1980s. Pascal Khoo Thwe is a survivor of Ne Win’s regime and the wild jungles which transformed him into a guerilla warfare fighter. His desperate letter to an Englishman would be his rescue from the jungles and lead him to an education in Cambridge Un ...more
Anand Gopal
Sep 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: burma
As a young member of the Padaung tribe, a band from eastern Burma famous for their giraffe-necked women, Pascal Khoo Thwe lived in a world of spirits and jungles. Yet he also somehow developed a taste for British literature, and a chance meeting with a Cambridge professor in a Mandalay restaurant in the mid-Eighties eventually carries him far from the jungles to the lawns of Cambridge University.

That story would in and of itself be remarkable, but it is rendered all the more so by the historical
May 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"In 1988 Dr. John Casey, a Cambridge don visiting Burman, was told of a waiter in Mandalay with a passion for the works of James Joyce. He visited the restaurant where he met Pascal Khoo Thwe. The encounter was to change both their lives."

"Pascal was the first member of his community ever to study English at university. Shortly after his meeting with Dr. Casey, Pascal's world lay in ruins. Economic crises caused by Burma's military dictatorship meant he had to give up his studies. As a result he
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Pascal Khoo Thwe opens this extraordinary book with the sentence: "When I was young I used to watch the rising sun with amazement." Incredibly, Khoo Thwe sustains our amazement as he relates the corruption of Burma through his eyes while growing up in its remote mountains. His words are informative and caring, painting not with the brush of pity as he portrays his home village and his family in their humble lives, but with one of deference and honor.

"From the Land of Green Ghosts" is more than a
Leonie von Hausen
I absolutely LOVED this book! It contains a lot of very valuable information on the country concerning many different aspects. Starting from the description of life as an ehthnice minority tribe's guy in the beautiful Shan hills, to the description of life as a student in Mandalay also during the crucial and sad year of 1988 in Myanmar and ending with life as a refugee amongst minority rebels in the jungle on the Thai border and the incredible escape to England. All this and the fact that this i ...more
Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
I've been wanting to read a book written by an actual Burmese, even better because he's a tribesmen. it was really interesting to read about his culture and how missionary Catholics has influenced their belief system and religion. Also the transition from the British colonialists to the Japanese then the military oppression of Ne Win. I liked that his memoir didn't just cover his life span but the ones from his grandparents as well. It made me realize that how we think and act also has to do wit ...more
Jan 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
With a trip to Burma coming up in a few weeks, I picked this book up at a used book store hoping to get better feel for where I was heading. Pascal Khoo Thwe's memoir was just what I hoped for: a moving personal account which also paints a good picture of Burmese and hill tribe societies in the 1980s in the period before, during and after the 1988 protests. Thwe is particularly remarkable for being able to look at his personal story through three lenses: that of his native Padaung tribe, that of ...more
Jul 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I read this sometime during our recent 6-month kitchen-that-became-much-more-than-that remodelling of our home. I just saw it under a screwdriver bit box and some blue painter's tape on my nightstand, and realized I hadn't said anything about it. This was an engrossing read; terrifying, pathetic, and unbelievable all at the same time. I was immediately overwhelmed with the Deus ex Machina experience of this remarkable young man, and his amazingly lucky opportunity to go to Oxford and study. Just ...more
Karey Swan
Feb 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The story of a boy who grew up in the "giraffenecked" women tribe, in Burma. Pascal was pretty much self taught as any bit of printed material was passed around - his favorite literature being James Joyce. It's an autobiographical tale of the brutal regime that put the clamps on Burma, Pascal's escape as a forest guerrilla-fighter to Thailand, and eventually rescued by an Englishman, where he ended up schooling at Cambridge.

Now as news continues to come from Burma/Myanmar and the plight of the s
Apr 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a 4-star read more because I was fascinated to learn about Burma, particularly the hill tribes and the student uprising. I knew very, very little about Burma before. The tale is particularly Bookish as the author ends up studying English lit at Cambridge after a chance encounter in a Chinese restaurant in Mandalay with a professor who heard about a waiter who loved James Joyce.
Karen Floyd
Apr 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, burma
Beautifully written. So beautifully written it's hard to realise that Pascal is not a native English speaker. His story begins as a childhood idyll in the Burmese jungle with his Padaung tribe, and ends in young manhood on the run from the Burmese military. Evocative, horrifying and heart-wrenching.
Apr 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent read and shocking insight to the madness that has torn Burma apart. Highly recommended.
Myat Thu
Jan 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Surabhi Dalal
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
What the world does not know about Burma is what is clearly stated in the memoir by Thwe.
Divided into 3 parts Thwe's memoir charts out his childhood spent in the Padaung region; the college years in the university amidst the uprising finally culminating into his journey to the border with Thailand where he with other students joined the Karenni camps. The final escape to England with the help of John gives Thwe a chance to study and fulfill his dreams again.
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written memoir that opens a window into the experience of an activist from the Paduang minority during the late 20th century. Starts slowly but builds suspense along with the political situation.
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
One of the best books on Burma I've ever read. Well worth it. Such an amazing storyteller and story.
Bart Thanhauser
Jan 12, 2014 rated it liked it
In the foreword of this book, the author’s friend and mentor, John Casey describes Pascal Khoo Thwe: “It is I think quite wonderful that one can even imagine that someone from a tiny hill tribe in Burma, who could be rotting in a jungle for the past few years, might go on to become an English writer of quality. But he could.”

Indeed, it is a pretty amazing journey. But it is this stuffy, condescending colonialist’s tone that drowns out Pascal’s otherwise compelling memoir. This is all the more d
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: burma
The situation in Burma is a sad, sad thing. Its rulers have guns and no compassion. There is one escalator in the whole country and no one knows how to fix it. These rulers refuse international help in a natural disaster to shield themselves not only from criticism of past atrocities but to further confiscate property. All wealth trickles up leaving the population total prey to its rulers.

By the extraordinary actions of John Casey, Pascal Khoo Thwe "got out" and was put in a position where he co
Jun 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book was a really good way to learn about Burma. I had a little trouble getting into it at first, but once it got more into the politics and armed struggle in Burma I was very interested. It was really interesting to read the story of someone who was in the midst of the fighting. It gave a terrifying and heartbreaking discription of war from the perspective of a young person caught in the middle of it all. It's really amazing that he survived it all. It was a great way to learn more about t ...more
Kaj Peters
Vooral intrigerend in hoe het de dorpsrituelen van de Padaung beschrijft als een vermenging van oude volksgebruiken en invloeden van Christelijk zendelingenwerk. Daarmee geeft het een unieke kijk op een afgesloten gemeenschap waar invloeden van buitenaf prima samengaan met zelf opgebouwde mythologieën. De insteek van religieuze vermenging wordt voortgezet als Pascal respectievelijk naar een seminarie gaat, Engels gaat studeren, meevecht voor de rebellen en uiteindelijk gaat studeren in Cambridge ...more
Mar 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enchanting real-life story describing in simple language, the journey of an ordinary boy through an extraordinary national journey.

Pascal was born to a hill-tribe in mountainous and remote Eastern Burma. Living in a closed community his life was relatively sheltered from the despotic regime that ruled the country. But as his education progressed and Pascal came into contact with mainstream Burmese society, he came to realise the brutality of the regime he lived beneath. Finally in the studen
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“Remember what your grandfather said about the earth's being round at school and flat at home. He was a wise man and taught you what you need to know in Burma. It is the same in politics. Learn the arguments for socialism in the textbooks parrot them pass your exams. Never never argue. But keep within your own head and heart what you and everyone really knows that in the real world it is a system of incompetence and corruption and a project for ruining the country.” 4 likes
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