Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Burmese Days by George Orwell

Ebook:  563KB  320 pages in print edition
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher:  Harper and Brothers USA. October 1934

Source: Amazon.
First Sentence: U Po Kyin, sub-divisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, in Upper Burma, was sitting in his verandah.

Favourite Quote: “. . . it is a corrupting thing to live one's real life in secret. One should live with the stream of life, not against it.” 
My Opinion: Shocking account of Colonial Life.

Recommended to me by my sister in law when she heard I was visiting Myanmar. It is always interesting to read novels set in the countries one is visiting or indeed has visited. I enjoyed this so much that I have already tracked down another novel set in Burma. 
Orwell used his own experiences in Burma as a policeman in the nineteen twenties to show the reader a realistic and shocking account of colonial life during the final years of the British Empire. Much of the story still felt surprisingly relevant as though since those days there has been tremendous change,some things have not changed at all, including the beauty of the country which is also described in excellent descriptive detail. 

Without giving too much away as I think everyone should read this for themselves. The protagonist known simply as 'Flory' is a work tired young man of thirty-five who has become disillusioned with his lifestyle, living in a dull expatriate community in a remote part of Burma, so set in his ways that he feels it is impossible for him to leave and return to England. Flory does not get on with the other Europeans, as being a very racist community they disapprove whole heartedly of his friendship with a Burmese doctor. The doctor is his only real friend and he is repulsed by the ex-pats racism, but still struggles to wholly rebel against it. 
Struggling to deal with his feeling of isolation Flory takes pleasure in gin and a Burmese mistress, neither of which satisfy him. Emotionally dissatisfied he longs to find himself a European wife that will share his love of Burma. It seems all is about to change when trite Elizabeth Lackersteen arrives on the scene, but things do not work out as Flory envisages.  

Reading this has reminded me that it is many years since I read Animal Farm and 1984 and that I really should read the rest of this talented author's work. Recommended to everyone!

Author Profile

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950),iMotihari, Bihar, in British India. Known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic.  His work is marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language, and a belief in democratic socialism.

Considered perhaps the twentieth century's best chronicler of English culture, Orwell wrote fiction, polemical journalism, literary criticism and poetry. He is best known for the dystopian novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (published in 1949) and the satirical novella "Animal Farm" (1945)—they have together sold more copies than any two books by any other twentieth-century author. His 1938 book "Homage to Catalonia", an account of his experiences as a volunteer on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, together with numerous essays on politics, literature, language, and culture, are widely acclaimed.

Orwell's influence on contemporary culture, popular and political, continues decades after his death. Several of his neologisms, along with the term "Orwellian" — now a byword for any oppressive or manipulative social phenomenon opposed to a free society — have entered the vernacular

Policing in Burma

With poor academic results at Eton it was decided that Eric should join the Imperial Police, the precursor of the Indian Police Service. After attending a cramer to improve his on his classics, English and History. he passed the exam, coming seventh out of the 26 candidates who exceeded the pass mark. Eric's maternal grandmother lived at Moulmein, so he chose a posting in Burma. In October 1922 he sailed on board S.S. Herefordshire via the Suez Canal and Ceylon to join the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. A month later, he arrived at Rangoon and travelled to the police training school in Mandalay. After a short posting at Maymyo, Burma's principal hill station, he was posted to the frontier outpost of Myaungmya in the Irrawaddy Delta at the beginning of 1924.
Working as an imperial policeman gave him considerable responsibility while most of his contemporaries were still at university in England. When he was posted farther east in the Delta to Twante as a sub-divisional officer, he was responsible for the security of some 200,000 people. At the end of 1924, he was promoted to Assistant District Superintendent and posted to Syriam, closer to Rangoon. Syriam had the refinery of the Burmah Oil Company, "the surrounding land a barren waste, all vegetation killed off by the fumes of sulphur dioxide pouring out day and night from the stacks of the refinery." But the town was near Rangoon, a cosmopolitan seaport, and Blair went into the city as often as he could, "to browse in a bookshop; to eat well-cooked food; to get away from the boring routine of police life.
In April 1926 he moved to Moulmein, where his maternal grandmother lived. At the end of that year, he was assigned to Katha in Upper Burma, where he contracted dengue fever in 1927. Entitled to a leave in England that year, he was allowed to return in July due to his illness. While on leave in England and on holiday with his family in Cornwall in September 1927, he reappraised his life. Deciding against returning to Burma, he resigned from the Indian Imperial Police to become a writer. He drew on his experiences in the Burma police for the novel Burmese Days (1934) and the essays "A Hanging" (1931) and "Shooting an Elephant" (1936).

The links included below have very comprehensive Biographies of Orwell's life if you want to read the full story. I have just  included above the section that is relevant to 'Burmese Days'.
The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and his writing.

George Orwell - Wikipedia     Goodreads Author Profile    Amazon Author Profile


  1. It must have been great to couple the reading of this with a visit to Myanmar. After finishing the book recently, I'd love to go and explore the country it talks about, to see the scars of Imperialism - if they still show at all - and meet the people of an interesting part of the world.

    Latest post: Review: Burmese Days by George Orwell

    1. Hi Matthew, thanks for calling by and commenting. I will be reading your own review shortly. Myanmar is indeed well worth a visit, I think you would find it fascinating. You may be interested in my Travel Tales blog where I have just started a series of posts on my trip.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Lindy. I have read his other books. Not this one. Hope you're having a great trip at Myanmar or will have if you haven't gone there yet.

    1. Thanks Nivedita, I see that you have now visited my other blog and enjoyed the photos. :)


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