Title: Bamboo People
Author: Mitali Perkins
Concepts: economics of conflict, poverty, scarcity, forced labor, child schooling and work
Review: Burma's repressive military regime has taken a stranglehold over the country by killing and arresting those who opposed its brutal measures. The military has also suppressed members of ethnic groups along the border and forced young Burmese boys into the army to fight the suspected insurgents. These measures directly affected Chiko and Tu Reh, two boys at the center of this new novel about the hardships in modern-day Burma.
Chiko, a smart and gentle child, desperately misses his father, a foreign-trained doctor thrown into prison by the military government. Chiko also falls victim to the military's oppressive means when a falsified job ad leads to his capture and forced labor in the Burmese army. Ironically, his survival ultimately depends on Tu Reh, an ethnic Karenni teenager living in a refugee camp along the Thai border. The Burmese army had burned Tu Reh's village and had brutalized the people, leaving Tu Reh with little tolerance or patience for the young Burmese soldier he found gravely injured in the jungle.
Perkins, a gifted storyteller and careful researcher, gives voice to both Chiko and Tu Reh in consecutive narratives that describe Chiko's training-camp ordeal and Tu Reh's efforts to help support the Karenni resistance. Liberally woven into the story are themes of hope, courage, friendship, and grace, making the novel an enjoyable read despite the grim topic. The book gets top marks for bringing the reader into a country with which relatively few people have any real familiarity or understanding.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children