Between 2000 and 2010 Karen Connelly wrote three books about the Burmese political unrest of the mid-1990s, a time when Connelly herself was living and travelling on the Thai-Burma border: The Border Surrounds Us (2000), a collection of lyric travel poems; The Lizard Cage (2005), a novel set inside a Burmese prison; and Burmese Lessons: A Love Story (2010), a memoir charting Connelly’s affective relationship to Burma and its people. Theorizing these books as Connelly’s “Burmese Trilogy,” this essay explores the affordances and limitations of different genres for bearing witness to the suffering of distant others, and the anxieties that accompany any attempt to ethically represent a culture that is not one’s own. It argues that the Burmese Trilogy emphasizes these anxieties, inviting a rereading of literature of witness in terms of mediation, circulation, and the ethics of bearing witness.
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