In Burma Banyan, A Daughter’s Odyssey, the reader is invited on an intimate set of travels as the author overcomes qualms about returning to Burma after a life span. Memories of Dawnie, her child self, besiege her. These memories are not set in the peaceful, civilized atmosphere of Dehra Dun, nestled in the hills north of Delhi, the setting of her notable first memoir–Jackals’ Wedding, A Memoir of a Childhood in British India–but in remote areas of northern Burma and in Mandalay, the capital of “Upper Burmah,” in an unstable atmosphere and generally unsafe surroundings.
The Burma sojourn of the author’s immediate family following Japanese occupation during World War II begins with a replay of their last days in India, continuing the compelling true story within a family story. Counterpoint with modern-day travels, the author once again revisits a long-locked past to probe the truth of romanticized early life. She reveals how she and her sister coped with expectations and warnings and absorbed the fears and insecurity of their parents in the aftermath of war to compound their own secret worries, how they became adept at assessing their grownups’ mood swings, and chameleonic in adapting themselves accordingly.
Entertaining stories of the generations before, ancestors who settled in India and Burma from faraway lands, flow naturally as the daughters’ parents, Pansy and William, return to live for a time in the country of their birth. Their resulting storm-and-sun relationship, the nucleus of the symbolic “jackals’ wedding,” continues as such in Burma Banyan.
Kawahara’s odyssey, which completes in an unexpected way, also takes readers from Hawai`i to the British Isles, and forays to Australia and New Zealand in search of “lost” family members. The search for a missing father–and a home–is the taproot of these journeys.