Burma: chaos and chicanery

Mandalay, by Alexandra Jones. New York: Villard Books. 486 pp. $18.95. Ever since the success of M.M. Kaye's ``Far Pavilions,'' the British occupation of Asia has been favored grist for historical novelists' mills. In ``Mandalay,'' Alexandra Jones offers a clearsighted portrait of upper Burma between 1878 and 1896 - the period prior to and including the British expansion from Lower Burma into Upper Burma.

Burma is a country that one hears little about, and Jones writes of its culture, peoples, and geography with clarity and comprehension. She also presents an unflinching picture of the British colony there. But what might have been a passionate, action-packed love story set amid the chaos and chicanery of this troubled land falls short: The British central characters lack the vital spark, and by the time the driving force behind their actions is revealed, the reader has ceased to care.

M. Melissa Pressley is a free-lance book reviewer.

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