Pascal Christel’s visit to Burma in 2015 inspired this large, coffee-table-style book, featuring an in-depth look at the country’s Buddhist traditions, architecture and artwork.
When Christel and his wife traveled in Burma (now called Myanmar), they were awed by the kindness of its people and the variety of artistry seen through clothing styles, home and public shrines and statuary, and magnificent temples and sanctuaries.
The book opens with a short explanation of the country’s history: how it went from the name Pagan Kingdom, to Burma, and, in 1989, to Myanmar. There’s a brief survey of the life and teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, and various aspects of the depictions of Gautama Buddha are explained; for example, his touching earth with one hand symbolizes his victory over temptation in his quest for enlightenment.
Much of the book centers on geographical areas and cities, such as Inle Lake, Ava Island (a former capital), and the storied Mandalay. Such places are brought to life in panoramic views of steeples (stupas) seen at a distance and intimate views inside the structures, showing details that range from murals and tiny carved images to a 98-foot high statue of Buddha at Soon U Pon Nya Shin Pagoda. Christel also explores arcane art forms, including photographs of sculptors, weavers and lacquerware artisans at work.
The narrative offers a lively, thorough description of the well-reproduced photos, most taken by the author’s wife and friends. A glossary of foreign words is helpful. One deficit is that, although the Table of Contents and Index reference page numbers, no numbers appear on the pages themselves. This is highly frustrating when looking for specific subjects.
Christel avows that he has created this major work to convey his sense of wonder and delight for this vibrant land, and he has succeeded admirably. His book will be appreciated by those who have visited or are planning to tour the country, and by armchair travelers alike.
Also available as an ebook.