The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham Rider Books In 1988 - auspicious for the numerology-obsessed people of Myanmar, as much as for the Chinese - the closed nation appeared to be on the cusp of democracy, and opening up to the world. It was a heady time, akin to Czechoslovakia's Prague Spring in 1968. But as with the Prague Spring, the promised liberalisation that was set to follow Aung San Suu Kyi's election victory was a threat the totalitarian order could not tolerate. A bloody military crackdown followed, as well as Suu Kyi's house arrest; she would be imprisoned for for most of the intervening years until her most recent release last year. 'The Generals' - the most commonly used term for the ruling junta - have been in control and their flagrant human rights abuses have earned them international opprobrium. Periodic official assurances of 'reform' led to nothing. Nevertheless, Suu Kyi has remained steadfast in her defiance, and her commitment to a free Myanmar, and is today deservedly revered as an unimpeachable moral voice in Asia. Nobody was greatly surprised when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. To do justice to such an iconic individual in a biography calls for a remarkable writer and Milan-based Peter Popham is the scribe for the job: the foreign correspondent has toured Myanmar 'undercover' several times since 1991. It is all the more an extraordinary book for the manner in which it was researched. Popham recently said that 'my book on Suu Kyi was different from all these in that for the entire period of research she was incommunicado, under house arrest. I had interviewed her years before [for the British daily, The Independent], but now I had no way of letting her know what I was up to, let alone interviewing her again. When she was finally released one year ago, I went back to Burma intending to tell her about the project, but was expelled before I could do so.' National leadership is literally in Suu Kyi's DNA: her father, Aung San, was the independence hero of Burma, but was assassinated in 1947, when she was only two years old. She has remained loyal to his memory and ideals. Popham breezes through the history of Suu Kyi as the daughter of a national hero, but does not whitewash the realpolitik of Aung San's wartime alliance with the Japanese. That said, Britain's colonial record in Myanmar was marked by cruelty, callousness, and indifference, so Tokyo's empty promises of an egalitarian pan-Asian bloc must have been seductive. Ever since Suu Kyi left England's Oxford in her 40s, leaving behind her husband, the late academic Michael Aris, and two sons to pursue her political goals in her homeland, we have wanted to understand her priorities. Popham goes a long way to explaining these. Popham got a scoop of sorts when he managed to secure the diaries of Ma Thanegi, a close friend of Suu Kyi's in the late 1980s, until a bitter falling-out. Extracts from the diaries provide insights into the early years of Suu Kyi's pro-democracy struggle. Covering the whole of the subject's life until the ill-fated Saffron Revolution of 2007 and beyond, The Lady and the Peacock is a comprehensive and lucidly written part one of the Suu Kyi story, and it's a volume that leaves the reader hoping for an eventual part two.