Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Book Learning #24

Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin.

This is one for the Orwellistas out there.

I say that because Ms Larkin litters quite a few indiscreet spoilers in this rather engaging book. If you are planning on reading any of Orwell's books in the near future and you don't wish to know the endings/broad themes of such works as Animal Farm, 1984, Burmese Days, Keep the Aspidistra flying, The Clergyman's daughter then come back to this book when you are done with the originals. Of course, If you have no intention of working through Orwell's books then you can read this without a hitch, that's what the spoilers are for.

Having said all of that this is an enjoyable accompaniment to the library of any Orwell fan. Larkin uses a trilogy of books by Orwell as a backdrop to recent Burmese history. Burmese Days, Animal Farm and 1984. The first represents the British colonial times, the second the establishment of socialism in Burma after WW2 and the third the totalitarian 'thought state' that exists today.

By a series of discreet encounters with Burmese dissidents and thinkers she traces Burmese history along with Orwell's experiences as a British policeman in the 1920s.
She attempts to find some of the locations that Orwell would have known and some of the settings for the novel Burmese days. She also picks away at modern Burma, both as a political entity and a tourist destination.

All the time she is attempting to evade the long arm of the Military who run Burma. They seem to be everywhere, suspicious of all foreigners as well as almost all Burmese. She also aims to find references to Orwell's Burmese experiences in his other books. I'm not so sure she succeeds with the last point but she does achieve a fine read and a glimpse into one of the world's darkest corners.

A recent article on Burma's current political shennanigans

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