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Burmese Days (1934)

by George Orwell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,415753,255 (3.76)1 / 217
Orwell draws on his years of experience in India to tell this story of the waning days of British imperialism. A handful of Englishmen living in a settlement in Burma congregate in the European Club, drink whiskey, and argue over an impending order to admit a token Asian.
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Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
Horrifying and fascinating at the same time. ( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
Orwell's first novel about British imperialism in Burma (Myanmar) is somewhat different from his two better well known novel in that this was a more personal report. You can see the journalist side of Orwell and shows his distaste for the racism where such words as "n*****" was used by more supremacist colonialist. The novel makes you question whether Burma's harsh political climate actually changed or not knowing about Aung San Suu Kyi or the military occupation. Also, some people have stated that Orwell was the main character, Flory, however two thing don't match up: one; Orewll, unlike Flory, was part of the Imperial Police in Burma and two; the fate of the main character is very different from Orwell's. ( )
  Jazz1987 | Aug 27, 2022 |
Somewhat dark piece that covers the British administration of Burma in the early 1900's, and explores the clash of cultures and perils of living in a completely different foreign land, and the political corruption, bigotry, racism and loneliness that creeps in and begins to dominate the lives of all. This very small enclave of English officials and businessmen, in particular, John Flory, struggle to survive and thrive in a very small town in the north of this very tropical nation. Their Club is their refuge from the reality of this extreme environment they find themselves in, and they handle their challenges differently. Flory begins to assimilate and accept and appreciate the charm of this different world and in doing so, stirs up the ire of those less willing. Enter the young English blonde niece forced to move in with her aunt and uncle, and the unraveling accelerates. Initially, i was lost as to where we even were due to the constant barrage of terms such as 'Indians,' coolies, Orientals, Burmese, etc. I thought this was taking place in India.....but i finally looked up some history of the area and realized that the English were administering Burma as they were India. The clarity helped immensely. Thus, I learned a bit of history i was unaware of, but the characters were hard to like, the climate seemed completely oppressive...and i was just reading about it. Interesting, a wee bit slow here and there, but a surprising ending. 3 stars is the best i can do. ( )
  jeffome | Aug 4, 2022 |
This is another of those discoveries thanks to the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list. I have read Orwell's better known works (1984 and Animal Farm) but I didn't even know about this book until the 1001 list came out. I also didn't know that Orwell spent a number of years in Burma (before the name was changed to Myanmar) as a military policeman. That sojourn had a life-changing effect on Eric Blair (George Orwell is a pseudonym for Blair).

The central figure of this book is John Flory, a middle-aged Englishman who has spent most of his adult years as a timber merchant in Burma. Flory has a prominent birthmark on his face about which he is very self-conscious. He has never returned to England and now he is more Burman than English, a fact that does not endear him to the other members of the British Raj stationed in the small town of Kyauktada. The few English inhabitants gather daily and nightly in the English club where there is copious alcohol if not ice to cool the drinks. The weather is hot and dry at the opening of the book and everyone's nerves are frayed. The situation is exacerbated by a dictum from on high that there should be at least one native allowed into the club membership. Flory is good friends with the Indian doctor, Veraswami, and would not mind if he was allowed in the club but most of the other members are strident racists. Trouble is brewing. Into this boiling mixture comes the beautiful Elizabeth Lackersteen, the orphaned niece of the alcoholic manager of a timber firm. Flory is instantly smitten and, as the only bachelor on hand, has a good chance of wooing Elizabeth. In reality, Flory is much too good for Elizabeth who is shallow and rather stupid. After a day when Flory takes Elizabeth out on a shooting expedition and they bag a leopard it looks like Flory will propose and Elizabeth will accept. An earthquake and the imminent arrival of an Honourable with the military police interrupt. From then on it is downhill for Flory.

Many years ago I stumbled across the novels and short stories of W. Somerset Maugham which were set amongst the British stations in the East. This book reminded me a lot of Maugham and, according to the introduction by David Eimer, it is highly likely that Orwell was influenced by Maugham's writing which would have been readily available in Burma when Orwell was stationed there. The British Empire, like most colonial regimes, pillaged the land and resources of Burma and treated the native inhabitants with bigotry and oppression. It seems that the current deplorable state of the Rohingya people in Myanmar even has roots in the British rule of the country. ( )
  gypsysmom | Dec 13, 2021 |
Orwell's first novel - good in parts. The plot is well constructed, the characters sharply drawn, but lacking depth, and set against the backdrop of Burma during the colonial era. I struggled with the appalling bigotry of most of the lead characters, and with the inevitable doom of the lead character, who alone shows respect or sympathy to the land and its people, but who is destined for a bad ending.
Glad I read it, but I can't see myself going back to it any time time soon. ( )
  mbmackay | Dec 13, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 68 (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)
 

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Orwell, Georgeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Larkin, EmmaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rees, RichardAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
This desert inaccessible under the shade of melancholy boughs.
~As You Like It
Dedication
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U Po Kyin, Sub-divisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, in Upper Burma, was sitting in his veranda.
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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Orwell draws on his years of experience in India to tell this story of the waning days of British imperialism. A handful of Englishmen living in a settlement in Burma congregate in the European Club, drink whiskey, and argue over an impending order to admit a token Asian.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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