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Burmese Days by George Orwell

Burmese Days (original 1934; edition 1944)

by George Orwell

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2,308372,750 (3.77)150
Title:Burmese Days
Authors:George Orwell
Info:Penguin Books Canada, Limited (1944), Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library, Read, Read but unowned
Tags:Fiction Classic, Classic, Library, Fiction, Male Author, Male Protagonist, Do Not Own, Read

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Burmese Days by George Orwell (1934)


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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
What a depressing book. Being an Englishman enforcing British rule in Burma is a dreary, painful, soul-crushing existence. Our 'hero', Mr. Flory is quite dismayed with his lot in life, finding his only pleasure in his chats with an educated Burman named Dr. Veraswami. Unfortunately, a local conniving pulchritudinous evil power-grubbing type, U Po Kyin has it out for Veraswami, and Flory along with him. Flory's lot in life seems to be looking up when young Elizabeth comes to stay with her aunt and uncle, and Flory attempts to woo her, but the machinations of U Po Kyin along with Elizabeth's vapid nature and cruel fate seek to deny him this pleasure. The other secondary characters, other Europeans, are a nasty, racist, horrid lot who revel in the mistreatment of the 'natives' while simultaneously basking in their praise and idolatry of the white men.
It's obvious that Orwell, who spent time in British India, knows his subject and disdains his fellow Europeans. His alter ego, Flory, enjoys the local customs and the richness of the Burmese culture, but is vilified for this by his fellow men as well as Elizabeth. There is little hope for the future of these people or the state of British rule, and the result of reading this book is distaste and revulsion, not for the native men, but for their slavers. Which is probably Orwell's point. One takes little comfort in the fact that these days have past, knowing that this kind of thing is still going on in various countries around the world, but not at the hands of the British. Small favor, that. ( )
  EmScape | Jan 22, 2015 |
I spent some time in Asia, and Orwell captured the feeling so well. ( )
  schmicker | Apr 19, 2014 |
George Orwell had quite an interesting life, and this was his first novel relating to his experience in the police force set up by the British when they held Burma. It outlines the interactions in a community when the actual power of life and death is held outside that group. He shows how the process of colonialism infantilized the community and leads to quite serious levels of cruelty as the colonizer is there to blame, reducing local responsibility. even well intentioned limbs of the Imperial government can be quite helpless in the face of someone who knows how to work the system. Chilling. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Oct 29, 2013 |
Interesting but somewhat depressing look at British colonial life in the 1920s. Very few of the characters are sympathetic and even Flory, whom I found the most congenial, had his flaws. I was a bit taken by surprise by the way the Brits lumped Burma in with India and called the native Burmese blacks... Orwell clearly despised the prevailing racism and arrogance of these white colonials but the ending of the book seems to indicate a feeling of helplessness about the possibility of change. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 26, 2013 |
A not too subtle criticism of empire, ex-pats, loneliness, power and prestige, political maneuvering and human need. Set in post-WWI Burma, James Flory has felt trapped in this tropical hell-hole for the past 15 years. He's lonely and over the years has taken on a variety of "bachelor" vices: drinking, whoring and sloth. Yet, he would willingly give up this lifestyle for an opportunity to marry a woman (Elizabeth) with whom he could share his experiences living abroad and what these experiences have taught him and taken from him.

Considered a "Bolshie" by his fellow British, compatriots, Flory avoids conflict by betraying his friend, an Indian doctor named Veraswami, but a series of events provide him an opportunity and the impetus to make amends by supporting his friend's endeavor to become the first non-white, European club member. A local constable has it out for Veraswami, and when fate conspires to save the good doctor from his machinations, the official targets Flory with scandal.

Throughout the novel, Orwell clearly speaks to the reader in disparaging terms about the "real" nature of Empire abroad--both the rulers and the ruled become "less than"--the former made mad from undeserved power and privilege, the later relegated to a servile class, secondary citizens in their homeland. The British ex-pats, most of whom regard the Burmans as animals, live seemingly only to drink themselves into a stupor and complain about their situations. They are brutish and uncivilized--their affectations of civilized behavior fall short with each derogatory statement, each drunken pratfall, every violent gesture toward the Burmese and their Indian sepoys and laborers.

I appreciate the various levels in which one can consider this novel. On one hand it is a rather vicious critique of the British Empire. On another it explores the psychological effects of loneliness, prolonged and entrenched loneliness on the human psyche. Flory is not the only lonely British soul in the novel. In fact, all of the Europeans, are in their own way, lonely. The only characters with healthy families are the Burmans. The one married couple is steeped in dysfunction. Flory maintains a superimposed fantasy upon the "girl" who he would take for a wife, which finally comes crashing down when scandal erupts expectantly.

Orwell's women are controlling, sly, or vapid. They appear to rely on the men mostly for their own sense of power, to appeal to them for sex, money or other favors. Yet, I sensed something hidden beneath the apparently sexist layers--a depiction of the feminine as might have been learned by the British had they taken the care to learn: women, as symbolized by the Hindu goddess Kali, can create or destroy, and that power, unlike the political or economic abilities of the mass of men, is eternal. Flory becomes the "every man" who is repeatedly born of a woman only to be destroyed by a woman. Of course, he sets himself up for his own eventual demise because he fails to acknowledge the very kind of women his society has created and perpetuated. In this way, Flory and his fellow ex-pats embody the British Empire, and how they treat women and the locals, is how empires treat the lands they "conquer". I doubt this analogy was lost on Orwell (Empire=male; colony=female).

I'm looking forward to reading Emma Larkin's travelogue on Orwell in her more recent journey through Burma. ( )
2 vote Ellesee | Apr 3, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (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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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
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
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U Po Kyin, Sub-divisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, in Upper Burma, was sitting in his veranda.
U Po Kyin, magistrado subdivisional de Kyauktada, na Alta Birmânia, estava sentado em sua varanda.
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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