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Burmese Days by George Orwell
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Burmese Days (original 1934; edition 1944)

by George Orwell

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2,324392,716 (3.77)150
Member:MikeBriggs
Title:Burmese Days
Authors:George Orwell
Info:Penguin Books Canada, Limited (1944), Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library, Read, Read but unowned
Rating:***1/2
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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English (36)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  All languages (39)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
This is the story of a man who is spectacularly lonely, set in Burma.

There are several aspects of this book that make for unpleasant reading. First, the description of general living conditions and the description of interactions between the British and the Burmese is clearly reflective of the problems of imperialism in this time and place. This description is used to create a pervasive tone of despair that is carried throughout all parts of the book. Second, Orwell's descriptions of the deaths of multiple animals is vivid and sad. The deaths of animals are more specifically described than the deaths of humans, and the tone Orwell uses seems to show the wrongness in these deaths. He inspires this feeling not by discussing any moral judgements as a narrator but by simply describing the physical events. Third, it is very clear almost from the beginning that even in the larger difficult context, things are specifically not going to work out well for the main character.

Even with all of these distressing components, this was worthwhile reading. Orwell provides a glimpse into the motivations of most of the characters, allowing their many unpleasant actions to be understood even when not making the characters particularly likeable. Instead of having a strong dislike for individual characters I just felt a strong sense of sadness for the reality of the entire situation and perhaps the human condition in general. In this way Burmese Days was a powerful book. I think occasionally it is okay to be reminded that there is no hope, just as we also need to be reminded that there is always hope. These reminders keep the situation real, which seemed to be the goal here.

This was different from the experiences of reading Animal Farm and 1984. It demonstrated a more character driven aspect of Orwell's skill that I hadn't seen before, which is part of what made it interesting. Though recognizing the value of his other work I was able to connect with this book in ways that just weren't possible with the other books. This was worthwhile but I'm off now to read something more cheerful! ( )
  karmiel | Aug 4, 2015 |
During the 1920's, while India was still under British rule, George Orwell spent some years as an officer of the Imperial Police in Burma. His first novel, Burmese Days, is based on that experience. Here a small group of Englishmen languish in their shabby elitist European Club, suffering from the stifling heat and bickering pettily among themselves. Particularly about a recent order they've had to admit a native Indian into their club. The protagonist is John Flory, a lonely self-depreciating man who struggles to resist the conformity of the club members. He admires and befriends a native physician, whom he wants to see become their newest member. Meanwhile the local Magistrate is finagling to ruin the doctor's reputation, poking his fingers into others' lives. Interjected into all this is Elizabeth, a shallow, attractive young woman who arrives to live with her aunt and immediately becomes the center of conflict as the men of the Club vie for her attention. Every character is flawed, none are really likable, and yet Orwell makes it so easy to sympathize with them. Full of satire and wry humor, this is a great read. Even though the ending dissatisfied me, because everything turned out as it would in real life, and it was kind of depressing. Somehow since it's a novel, I expected a different resolution. Yet that just serves to make the novel even stronger, because it so realistically portrays so many foibles of human nature.

from the Dogear Diary ( )
2 vote jeane | Jul 11, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (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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Epigraph
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.
Quotations
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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