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Maurice Collis’s Days and Trails in Burma…this is a true story in every detail
17 March 2021 1:00 pm - 2:00 pmFree
When Joseph Woods discovered a flimsy wartime Penguin book about Burma in a second-hand bookshop in Drogheda in the mid-1990s, he stumbled upon the life of his fellow countryman, Maurice Collis; Burma’s finest late-colonial writer, chronicler and advocate.
A few years earlier, Joe had entered Burma overland from China, but now, albeit in characteristic slow burning fashion, he embarked on a literary sleuthing journeythat would take him back to Burma, first as visitor and later to live with his family in Rangoon for almost three years in the lead up to the democratic elections of 2015.
He journeyed through Collis’s many books and locations important to the writer and revealing Collis’s own devotion to and grasp of Burma. Joe travelled to parts of Burma that were only just opening up after decades of isolation –interminable river ferries in the monsoon to the fabled city of Mrauk-U; Collis’s hauntingly abandoned (and indeed haunted) teak mansions in troubled Arakan; magical Mergui on the Andaman Sea where the confluence of culture, race and religions inspired his predecessor. And, while Collis’s legacy undergoes a quiet publishing renaissance under Burma’s new dispensation, elsewhere he’s forgotten and often wrongly consigned to the colonial sin bin.
Joe’s many encounters include meeting a princess of the deposed Burmese royal family in Florence and friendship in Zimbabwe’s ‘Burma Valley’ with descendants of Burmese colonials. He has trawled libraries, archives and galleries charting Collis’s triumvirate of key European cities –from the family home in Dublin, to Paris and London –and finally back again to Burma where Maurice Collis remains more relevant than ever.
Joseph Woods is an award-winning poet, writer and editor and lives in Harare, Zimbabwe with his family. His most recent book was Monsoon Diaries, Dedalus Press, Dublin.
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