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Burmese Days by George Orwell

Burmese Days (1934)

by George Orwell

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Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
A prickly attack on the corrupting and dehumanising effects of colonialism on the colonisers and the colonised, the novel excels beyond its moral righteousness with its magnificently-described tropical-heat setting of ripely flourishing flora and fauna - a wonderful readerly companion to my current mild southern hemisphere winter -, and its well-drawn cast of incredibly flawed characters. The characters are all sympathetically, pathetically wretched. It's easy to see how they are products of their contexts, their lives manipulated by a cultural force beyond their control. But it's also disappointing yet understandable to see why common human decency have failed to gain traction in such a rigidly corrupt environment.

Perhaps none is more pathetic than the Orwell stand-in, the relatively open-minded but snivelling coward Flory, whose pitiful selfishness serves the dual purpose as a cautionary reminder of that old adage about all that is necessary for evil to prevail etc, as well as the dangers of fixating - to the point of blatant blindness - and projecting your hopes on one person who is supposed to be the solution to all your problems. Interestingly on the theme of bodily disfigurement attributing to some form of inferiority complex, Flory reminds me of another repulsively-piteous character, the pre-enlightened Philip of Of Human Bondage

Anyone familiar with Animal Farm and 1984 can probably guess at the type of ending in Burmese Days. I'm not sure if it's my own pessimistic tendencies or the fact this was Orwell's first novel but the ending I found wanting in misery. However, that climax in the last third of the book was amazing, a masterful combination of plot and prose dexterously culminating in utter chaos.

Aside: It's fascinating to read this after reading Orwell's ( )
  kitzyl | Jul 26, 2018 |
George’s southeast Asian tale translates his scorn for capitalist Britain into the wilds of Burma where the sultry humidity and lazy pace of tropical life do little to dampen his ire.

Flory is an experienced colonial at a backwater station where the British empire is doing its level best to make its rule felt. When the young Elizabeth turns up, Flory senses his chance not only to secure his emotional future, but to provide an cultural induction to the young impressionable. Elizabeth however, lacks the ability to see beyond her prejudice and, somewhat inevitably, it all ends in tears.

Orwell uses this to set up a tension between those who see things from Orwell’s point of view and those who, well, don’t. George is clear: the empire is a vehicle for making the rich richer. The Brits come off none too well in this novel, and he drew some criticism for this at the time of its publication.

But Orwell knew what he was talking about, having spent five years as a police officer in Burma. So true to reality was this account that publishers insisted on names of characters and locations being changed because they were worried about libel suits.

Of course, it’s easy for us with the hindsight of history to look back on the colonial era and say that it was all one huge mistake. But in Orwell’s day, this was a much harder point of view to convey. Empirical Burma was one of the most valuable sources of Britain’s wealth as vast resources in teak and other commodities were exported around the globe. At the time, the injustice of this practice wasn’t something the average Brit concerned themselves with. Thus, Orwell’s book was an important voice in the wilderness.

It’s still important today, though. Having travelled and lived in nearly 80 countries, I can assure you that despite us considering ourselves a global village these days, most of the “developed world” remains entirely ignorant of the sensitivities of local cultures. There are still far too many Elizabeths and those of us who sympathise with Flory can occasionally feel like replicating his final desperate act. We need novels like Orwell’s to remind us of our own shortsighted humanity. ( )
  arukiyomi | May 19, 2018 |
Very nice....easily read w/ the typical Orwellian approach: a disdain for power centralized in the hands of a few, whether colonial or otherwise. Am really surprised this book garnered only a 4.0. My sole improvement would have been to include a glossary on Asian vocabulary used throughout the book. Purchased in Yangon about 3 weeks ago for 2,000 kyat, about $1.50 USD, new. ( )
  untraveller | Nov 14, 2017 |
Brilliant. Explores the stupidity of racism that still exists today. Ends in a sad story that Hollywood could never accept. Makes politicking look like an absurd past-time for idiots. Proves one of Aesop's most prolific fables. Is Orwell really Hemingway's older brother who became a preacher? If only Animal Farm and 1984 had not received so much attention, we might have known the difference. Orwell (aka Eric Arthur Blair) was three years older than I am now when he died. He lived such a full life but I think I will need longer to even contemplate his experiences, let along learn from them or create my own. Orwell was so far ahead of his time I doubt the current vanilla generation even come close to understanding what he understood, let alone do anything to right current wrongs. He is the master and I must read more of his work. ( )
  madepercy | Nov 7, 2017 |
When you start reading a book, decide that you don't really want to get into the story, but go back to reading it anyway because the prose is "that" good, you know you have an excellent novel in your hands. And of course, it is written by George Orwell, whom every grade school student has had to read.

Burmese Days is the story of Mr. Flory, an Englishman living in Burma during the days of colonialism. Flory is clearly a highly conflicted character, friends with the local doctor Verswami and at odds with his fellow Englishman, yet without the courage to directly conflict with them. And then comes Elizabeth, a beautiful young girl whom he falls madly in love with. All of the story is set within the context of local politico U Po Kyin's duplicitous scheme to discredit Verswami and to be elected to the local "club" which - up until this point - has been exclusive to only the British.

The story is fairly straightforward and the ending a bit anti-climatic, but the sense of the times in Burma is clearly conveyed. For a greater understanding of British colonialism and the prevalent attitudes of the time, this is an excellent read. ( )
  phoenixcomet | Aug 24, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
Not only is the book thick with information about Burma in the 1920s and Orwell’s lefting political thought in the ’30s but it’s a damn good read, simply as a story told. The leading man, Flory, a timber merchant in Upper Burma, who has resigned himself to gin before breakfast and a Burmese mistress, is smitten when a young Englishwoman. Elizabeth, appears at the Club, making an extended stay with her Aunt and lecherous Uncle. Flory inadvertently displays himself as a heroic man by rescuing the naive Miss Lackersteen from a cud chewing water buffalo. He seems to win her heart during a hunting expedition, and without ever discerning the inborn, and growing, colonialist racism in the young lady –which he himself, is mostly bereft of– commits his future happiness to marriage with her. An earthquake interrupts his proposal of marriage.

A dashing young horse officer intervenes. Romance is kindled. A riot by villagers in response to the blinding of one of their youth by a Club member gives Flory a second chance to be a hero.
Overall, Burmese Days is a thoroughly impressive piece of work which is a suspenseful, tragic and at times beautiful depiction of upper Burma. It marks a great contribution towards an artistic reflection of the issue of race (and more subtly in the text, gender) as well as providing insight into the corruption and immorality behind Anglo- Indian imperialism.
An undeniable masterpiece.
added by John_Vaughan | editInspired Quill, Tom Cobb (Jul 23, 2011)

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Orwell, Georgeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rees, RichardAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This desert inaccessible under the shade of melancholy boughs.
~As You Like It
First words
U Po Kyin, Sub-divisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, in Upper Burma, was sitting in his veranda.
For somehow, he had never been able to talk to her as he longed to talk. To talk, simply to talk! It sounds so little, and how much it is! When you have existed to the brink of middle age in bitter loneliness, among people to whom your true opinion on every subject on earth is blasphemy, the need to talk is the greatest of all needs. Yet with Elizabeth serious talk seemed impossible. It was as though there had been a spell upon them that made all their conversation lapse into banality: gramophone records, dogs, tennis racquets—all that desolating Club-chatter. She seemed not to want to talk of anything but that. He had only to touch upon a subject of any conceivable interest to hear the evasion, the 'I shan't play' , coming into her voice. … Later, no doubt, she would understand him and give him the companionship he needed. Perhaps it was only that he had not won her confidence yet. 
For a moment it seemed to him that an endless procession of Burmese women, a regiment of ghosts, were marching past him in the moonlight. Heavens, what numbers of them!A thousand- no, but a full hundred at least!" Eyes Right!" he thought despondently. Their faces turned towards him, but they had no faces, only featureless discs. He remembered a blue longyi here, a pair of ruby earrings there,but hardly a face or a name. The gods are just and of our pleasant vices (pleasant, indeed) make instruments to plague us.He had dirtied himself beyond redemption, and this was his just punishment.
He stood at the gate, watching them as they went. Elizabeth- lovely name, too rare nowadays.He hoped she spelt it with a 'z'. Ko S'la trotted after her at a queer and uncomfortable gait, reaching the umbrella over her head and keeping his body as far away from her as possible.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156148501, Paperback)

Imagine crossing E.M. Forster with Jane Austen. Stir in a bit of socialist doctrine, a sprig of satire, strong Indian curry, and a couple quarts of good English gin and you get something close to the flavor of George Orwell's intensely readable and deftly plotted Burmese Days. In 1930, Kyauktada, Upper Burma, is one of the least auspicious postings in the ailing British Empire--and then the order comes that the European Club, previously for whites only, must elect one token native member. This edict brings out the worst in this woefully enclosed society, not to mention among the natives who would become the One. Orwell mines his own Anglo-Indian background to evoke both the suffocating heat and the stifling pettiness that are the central facts of colonial life: "Mr. MacGregor told his anecdote about Prome, which could be produced in almost any context. And then the conversation veered back to the old, never-palling subject--the insolence of the natives, the supineness of the Government, the dear dead days when the British Raj was the Raj and please give the bearer fifteen lashes. The topic was never let alone for long, partly because of Ellis's obsession. Besides, you could forgive the Europeans a great deal of their bitterness. Living and working among Orientals would try the temper of a saint."

Protagonist James Flory is a timber merchant, whose facial birthmark serves as an outward expression of the ironic and left-leaning habits of mind that make him inwardly different from his coevals. Flory appreciates the local culture, has native allegiances, and detests the racist machinations of his fellow Club members. Alas, he doesn't always possess the moral courage, or the energy, to stand against them. His almost embarrassingly Anglophile friend, Dr. Veraswami, the highest-ranking native official, seems a shoo-in for Club membership, until Machiavellian magistrate U Po Kyin launches a campaign to discredit him that results, ultimately, in the loss not just of reputations but of lives. Whether to endorse Veraswami or to betray him becomes a kind of litmus test of Flory's character.

Against this backdrop of politics and ethics, Orwell throws the shadow of romance. The arrival of the bobbed blonde, marriageable, and resolutely anti-intellectual Elizabeth Lackersteen not only casts Flory as hapless suitor but gives Orwell the chance to show that he's as astute a reporter of nuanced social interactions as he is of political intrigues. In fact, his combination of an astringently populist sensibility, dead-on observations of human behavior, formidable conjuring skills, and no-frills prose make for historical fiction that stands triumphantly outside of time. --Joyce Thompson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:42 -0400)

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A corrupt Burmese politician uses the powers of his office to win membership in a British club.

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