BOOK REVIEW: Finding George Orwell In Burma
“Mandalay is rather a disagreeable town — ” complained the narrator of “Burmese Days,” “it is dusty and intolerably hot, and it is said to have five main products all beginning with P, namely, pagodas, pariahs, pigs, priests and prostitutes.”
This article originally appeared in Issue 15 of NomadHead Magazine.
I was drawn to this book, ‘Finding George Orwell in Burma’, by two things. Firstly, it appeared on a bookshelf in a hostel and I was in need of a new book. I love the worldwide hostel library system because it means you get to (have to?) read a diverse selection of books. Everything from Picoult to Archer to Bryson.
Secondly, the blurb mentioned that modern day Burma could be directly compared to Orwell’s most famous books – Burmese Days, Animal House and 1984. I haven’t yet read Burmese Days but I can see the tie between the military dictatorship that currently rules Myanmar and the government-controlled society Orwell presents in his books.
The unique perspective of Emma Larkin’s book led to a very fascinating read. It could be equally loved by both Orwell fans and Burmese history buffs. Larkin retraces Orwell’s postings in Burma in the 1920s while Burma was still called Burma (the government changed the country name to Myanmar, along with many other British influenced names) and a British colony. Orwell lived in Burma for five years and Larkin wanted to investigate how the country affected him and what traces of his life remained there.
Her mission also provides an interesting itinerary from which Larkin is able to share knowledge of the harsh restrictions faced by Burmese citizens. Locals have to endure stringent government censorship and can easily be placed in jail for the slightest opposition.
I recommend Finding George Orwell In Burma because Larkin’s writing style combines historical fact with intrepid travelogue and you get the feeling you are on the same rickety train ride as her, not knowing what obstacles are around the corner. This is a great read for anyone who has an interest in Burma or George Orwell, or simply wants to get a better understanding of the oppressive situation there.
The book was first published in 2005 and is now a tad outdated, given the recent developments with Aung San Kyii being freed and the government opening up to foreign investment. With Myanmar’s first KFC being opened, has the military dictatorship softened? For the people’s sake, I hope so.
Note that the author goes by an alias so the author isn’t exiled by Burma nor are the sources of information found out.
Have you read ‘Finding George Orwell in Burma’ by Emma Larkin? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.
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