Monday, April 18, 2016

Book review: "Finding George Orwell in Burma" by Emma Larkin

For this month's Ex-pat read, our ex-pat is a famous one. George Orwell. You may know him from such incredibly classic books like "Animal Farm" and "1984". I have to say that after reading this book my fingers are itching to get a hold of and reread those two. What you might not know about George is that he lived for a time in Burma, and though it wasn't a topic of many of his writings (though there are some) it effected his writing, and life, a lot.

For the sake of continuity I will call Burma Burma and not Myanmar, because that's what it was called when it was under British colonial rule. Burma is really the centerpiece of the story, a whole character unto itself. I should also note that this book was published in 2004 and that some changes have happened with Burma taking tiny steps closer to freedom but it remains a very closed off place with a staggering history of  human rights abuses. (Examples: imprisoning anyone who protests the government, censoring of press, basically no free speech. Please see here , here  and here for more information). 

Ans just in case someone doesn't know where Burma is....

Map of Myanmar (Burma)

Our author travels to Burma to see the places that Orwell had lived and worked and to see if there are people reading Orwell. Orwell was, basically a British policeman during his time in Burma and there seems to be a lot of differences between how he felt about Britain's colonization of Burma and how other British officers felt. He sounds like he was kind of a loner, not much of a party animal like some of his compatriots could be. Author Emma goes to some of his old haunts but they totally have the Miss Havisham vibe going on -  if they are still around they are decrepit and empty but you can see how beautiful they used to be. Mostly there is nothing there. And sometimes she gets followed around and watched by government spies basically. 

I think the most interesting parts of the book is her interaction with the Burmese. Whenever they talk about Orwell and his writings it has to be in very hushed tones because his books are pretty subversive. I don't want to give too much away but to a lot of the Burmese, Big Brother isn't some frightening dystopian fantasy, it's their everyday life. I wonder how Orwell would feel if he saw Burma now.

This book made me want to reread some classics that I haven't read since mmy early teens,and it educated me immesnly on a country that I knew very little about. It's worth reading just for a short little Burmese parable about the knights and the dragon (page 107 in the paperback). I give it 3.5 stars!



  1. I might have to grab a hold of this one too! I have 1984 in my classics pile. Speaking of classics, how does June sound to start Confessions??

  2. Yes! June sounds great for a little St Augustine!


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