Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Miss Burma

by Charmaine Craig

Set against the vibrant backdrop of Burma from the 1940s to the 1960s, Miss Burma is a powerful and epic novel that follows one prominent Burmese family struggling to overcome war and political repression while trying to build a meaningful life.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 384
  • Publication Date March 09, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2768-6
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 368
  • Publication Date May 02, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2645-0
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $26.00

About The Book

Miss Burma tells the story of modern-day Burma through the eyes of Benny and Khin, husband and wife, and their daughter Louisa. After attending school in Calcutta, Benny settles in Rangoon, then part of the British Empire, and falls in love with Khin, a woman who is part of a long-persecuted ethnic minority group, the Karen. World War II comes to Southeast Asia, and Benny and Khin must go into hiding in the eastern part of the country during the Japanese Occupation, beginning a journey that will lead them to change the country’s history.

After the war, the British authorities make a deal with the Burman nationalists, led by Aung San, whose party gains control of the country. When Aung San is assassinated, his successor ignores the pleas for self-government of the Karen people and other ethnic groups, and in doing so sets off what will become the longest-running civil war in recorded history. Benny and Khin’s eldest child, Louisa, has a danger-filled, tempestuous childhood and reaches prominence as Burma’s first beauty queen soon before the country falls to dictatorship. As Louisa navigates her newfound fame, she is forced to reckon with her family’s past, the West’s ongoing covert dealings in her country, and her own loyalty to the cause of the Karen people.

Based on the story of the author’s mother and grandparents, Miss Burma is a captivating portrait of how modern Burma came to be and of the ordinary people swept up in the struggle for self-determination and freedom.

Tags Literary


Miss Burma is a timely exposition of trust after trauma. [It] also serves as a much-needed recalibration of history, one that redresses the narrative imbalance by placing other ethnic, non-Burmese points of view at the center of its story . . . In reimagining the extraordinary lives of her mother and grandparents, Craig produces some passages of exquisitely precise description . . . and brings one of Burma’s many lost histories to vivid life.”—New York Times Book Review

“This multigenerational saga portrays the emergence of modern Burma—through British colonialism, wartime occupation by the Japanese, and the independence era . . . Craig ably controls the novel’s historic sweep, and is unsparing in providing details of meticulous torture and wartime horror. She also conveys a strong sense of family.”New Yorker (Briefly Noted)

“[An] epic new novel . . . The sweeping, multi-generational story of a family belonging to the Karen ethnic minority, Miss Burma charts both a political history and a deeply personal one—and of those incendiary moments when private and public motivations overlap.”—Los Angeles Times

“An epic roman à clef . . . Craig . . . masterfully renders the human condition in matters micro and vast . . . Like many of the best books, Miss Burma feels rooted in its time and place, while also laying bare timeless questions of loyalty, infidelity, patriotism, and identity—not to mention the globally perpetuated unfair treatment of women.”—Elle

“[A] riveting account of the treacheries, fractures, and courageous acts of wartime.”—Jane Ciabattari, BBC (Ten Books to Read in May)


“Craig expects a good deal of her audience in terms of their appetite for Burmese history, and I hope that many will rise to the occasion, because the rewards are rich . . . Craig has called writing this novel ‘a political act’; it is also clearly a deeply personal one. She weaves those threads together for us, showing us the ordinary human failings behind what often seem like clear-cut cases of good and evil . . . While this novel cannot untangle ethnic identity from tribalism, it is a courageous attempt to broaden the way we see others and ourselves, both personally and politically, at home and abroad.”—Rosalie Metro, Los Angeles Review of Books

“A gorgeously-written novel that illuminates the universalities of fear and the desires for dignity and freedom.”—Literary Hub (15 Books to Read This May)

“A story of how modern-day Burma came to be, as well as the tale of one of the most violent and turbulent eras in world history played out. At once beautiful and heartbreaking . . . An incredible family saga.”—Refinery29 (Favorite Books of 2017—So Far)

“An ambitious novel . . . Miss Burma is powerful in showing the relentless effect of the political on the personal while covering an important swath of history—and all the while telling an awfully good story.”—Christian Science Monitor

Miss Burma . . . throbs with brutality, insight and authenticity, taking us deep into the human dynamics of Burma and its tumultuous history . . . [An] ambitious second novel. With Miss Burma, the country’s emotional, cultural and political landscape becomes textured, fraught and, yes, positively epic . . . An intricate and multidimensional portrait of a family, a country and an era . . . An epic novel that is as luminous, intelligent and surprising as Miss Burma herself.”—Post Magazine

Miss Burma is the novel Charmaine Craig was destined to write . . . [An] epic.”—Orange Coast

“This is a fascinating story and a sobering look at the horrors of civil war and its cause—maniacal nationalism. You will never again look at Myanmar in the same way.”—Eyes on World Cultures

“[A] tale of love and disenchantment, loyalty and resentment, recognition and isolation . . . Whether Craig is describing the family’s escape through the jungle during WWII or student protests in 1962, she transports us to the thick of the conflicts . . . Based on real lives, Craig’s historical novel challenges our assumptions about everything from beauty queens to rebels and reminds us that the course of a nation’s history is often determined by the fallibility of individuals.”Booklist (starred review)

“Spanning generations and multiple dictators, Craig’s epic novel provides a rich, complex account of Burma and its place within the larger geopolitical theater . . . The language and the images unfold with grace, horror, and intimacy.”Publishers Weekly

“Rich and layered, a complex weaving of national and personal trauma . . . Craig has written a captivating second novel that skillfully moves from moments of quiet intimacy and introspection to passages portraying the swift evolution of political events as multiple groups and nations vie for control of Burma’s future. Mesmerizing and haunting.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[An] epic new novel . . . distinctive for its representation of a voice not often documented in history. Craig vividly illustrates the intertwining of the political and the personal . . . Fans of Jan-Philipp Sendker’s The Art of Hearing Heartbeats will find this to be a darker, more nuanced story . . . Readers with an eye to world history and current events will find this novel riveting.”—Library Journal

“A haunting story . . . With Miss Burma, Charmaine Craig accomplishes something many historical novelists do not: the successful depiction of great sweeps of momentous events along with intimate scenes that linger over the most minor, evocative details . . . As extraordinary as Louisa—who becomes the face of her country’s future—this novel expertly chronicles a people’s resolve and the metamorphosis of a complicated land.”—Washington Independent Review of Books

“This novel provides a timely insight into the troubled recent history of this Southeast Asian country . . . Astonishing true events . . . provide the book with its title, and its powerful opening and closing scenes . . . [A] heartbreaking story . . . One of the author’s main achievements lies in forcing us to consider the intersection of the personal and political, and the extent to which individuals are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.”—New York Journal of Books

Miss Burma is epic in scope, tackling the complicated history of Burma, from the Forties through to the Sixties, encompassing insurgency, persecution, colonialism, and the Second World War. Craig brings a personal aspect to this uneven tale of love and war—the novel is based on the lives of her mother, the titular beauty queen, and her grandparents. Theirs is a difficult relationship, with differences of language and belief made all the more tempestuous by the times through which they’re living.”—The Mail on Sunday (UK)

“While the book is set in Burma, its real subjects are love and beauty over generations. I was knocked out by the ambition and accomplishment of Charmaine Craig’s novel. And, yes, there is a beauty pageant and you will meet Miss Burma.”—Michael Silverblatt, KCRW Bookworm

“Charmaine Craig wields powerful and vivid prose to illuminate a country and a family trapped not only by war and revolution, but also by desire and loss. Both epic and intimate, Miss Burma is a compelling and disturbing trip through Burmese history and politics.”—Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer

“A sweeping novel of Burma and its complicated history, told from the perspective of people whose voices have been systematically erased from the official record. Charmaine Craig writes about war and exile with an exquisite mix of tenderness and intelligence. A brilliant book.”—Laila Lalami, author of The Moor’s Account

Miss Burma is a riveting portrayal of human resourcefulness and heroism, and of their inadequacy before the great cataclysms of history. This engrossing novel movingly affirms—in its characters, but also in the elegance and fineness of its craft—the perseverance of dignity in the face of our helplessness.”—Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

Miss Burma is a book which resonates with meaning, of how we are all actors in our histories and the histories of our nations, it disrupts our settled sense that the past is the past, and shows how it reaches forward to touch the future. It is a powerful, moving and important novel.”—Aminatta Forna, author of The Hired Man

“In beautiful and evocative prose, Miss Burma reminds us of the many ways that war and political repression can scar generations. Yet the real wonder of this powerful book rests in its strong belief that love and determination—and even loss—can help illuminate a path out of the darkest moments. A gem of a novel.”—Maaza Mengiste, author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze


There she is, Louisa at fifteen, stepping onto a makeshift stage at the center of Rangoon’s Aung San Stadium in 1956. Give yourself to them, she thinks. And immediately one hand goes to her hip, her head tilts upward, her awareness descends to her exposed thighs, to her too muscular calves, now in plain view of the forty thousand spectators seated in the darkening stands.

Give them what they need, her mother told her. And Louisa understands that her mother meant more than a view of her gold high-heeled sandals (on loan from a friend and pinching her toes), more than the curves accentuated by her white one-piece (copied from a photo of Elizabeth Taylor). Her mother meant something like a vision of hope. Yet what is Louisa’s appearance on this garish stage, during the final round of the Miss Burma contest, but a picture of something dangerous. She is approximately naked, her gleaming suit approximately concealing what should be private. She is approximately innocent, pushing a hip to one side, close to plummeting into indignity.

A tide of applause draws her farther into the light.

She pivots, presenting the judges and the spectators beyond them with a view of her behind (ample thanks to her Jewish father, who sits with her mother somewhere in the stands nearby). Before her now are the other finalists, nine of them, grouped in the shadows upstage. Their smiles are fixed, their eyes gleaming with outrage. “The special contender,” the government paper recently called her. How strange to be dubbed “the image of unity and integration” when she has wanted only to go unremarked–she, the mixed-breed, who is embarrassed by mentions of beauty and race. “We never win the games we mean to,” her father once told her.


Longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award
Longlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction
New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
A New York Times Book Review Paperback Row Selection
KCRW Bookworm Best Books of 2017
An Amazon Best Book of the Month (Literature & Fiction)
An Indie Next Selection