Minka Nijhuis


Land van geheimen

Land of secrets

Burma is the most photogenic dictatorship on earth: graceful figures wearing longyis, tropical flowers, pagodas like fancy meringues. Hidden from Western eyes are the prison camps, torture chambers and military offensives against minorities in border areas. An even better kept secret is the Burmese resistance. Students, workers and monks patiently weave their invisible threads straight through the junta’s web of secret agents and security forces. Journalist Minka Nijhuis spent seventeen years following key members and she tells their stories in evocative, insightful, often moving reportage.

Nijhuis became a friend of Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Prize-winner and Burma’s main opposition leader, who has spent fifteen of the past twenty-two years under house arrest. This frail woman, with orchids in her hair and an unshakable faith in freedom and democracy, is a deadly threat to the junta; a mere glimpse of ‘The Lady’ through her garden railings makes the hearts of her millions of followers soar.

‘Burma’s story does have a lot of Beauty and the Beast about it,’ Nijhuis writes. She goes after the ‘Beast’, the unfathomable General Tan Shwe, whose reign of terror is guided by astrologers. Predictions of foreign invasion prompted him to create a new, impregnable capital called Naypyidaw, 200 miles from Rangoon. Nijhuis manages to reach the new city, where penguins reside in an air-conditioned enclosure at the zoo. Meanwhile, a third of Burmese children are malnourished.

Nijhuis secretly visits Burma’s pagodas, where monks reveal themselves as ‘politicians in saffron robes’. In 2007 tens of thousands of them took to the streets to protest. The junta hesitated briefly before opening fire, and for the first time the outside world witnessed Burma’s violent repression, filmed by young Burmese on their mobile phones. World leaders condemned the junta, but Burma’s soldiers were more concerned about their karma, stained by the blood of the monks. Whether the ‘saffron revolution’ was a turning point in Burma’s history, only time will tell.

  • The courageous stubbornness of the Burmese resistance is reflected in the fearlessness of Nijhuis’ exploration of the country and its history
  • Unique insights into a people’s ineradicable craving for freedom

Combining expertise and empathy, Minka Nijhuis paints a moving portrait of the opposition in this tormented country.

Jury report of the Bob den Uyl prize 2010

Loyal, humane, tenacious, compelling and exceptionally courageous. For this book Minka Nijhuis deserves all the journalistic prizes of the rainbow.

Geert Mak, author of <em>In Europe</em>

Minka Nijhuis

Minka Nijhuis is an award-winning journalist for the Dutch daily Trouw, Vrij Nederland and for several radio stations. She has reported on conflicts in Cambodia, Burma, Kosovo, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. She is the author of two books on Burma (A Tea House in the Jungle, 1995 and Smuggled

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Birma. Land van geheimen (2009). Non-fiction, 224 pages.
Words: 72,000

With references



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Literary agent

Toby Eady

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