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Set in the days of the Empire, with the British ruling in Burma, Orwell's book describes corruption and imperial bigotry. Flory, a white timber merchant, befriends Dr Veraswami, a black enthusiast for the Empire, whose downfall can only be prevented by membership at an all-white club. Set in the days of the Empire, with the British ruling in Burma, Orwell's book describes corruption and imperial bigotry. Flory, a white timber merchant, befriends Dr Veraswami, a black enthusiast for the Empire, whose downfall can only be prevented by membership at an all-white club.


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Set in the days of the Empire, with the British ruling in Burma, Orwell's book describes corruption and imperial bigotry. Flory, a white timber merchant, befriends Dr Veraswami, a black enthusiast for the Empire, whose downfall can only be prevented by membership at an all-white club. Set in the days of the Empire, with the British ruling in Burma, Orwell's book describes corruption and imperial bigotry. Flory, a white timber merchant, befriends Dr Veraswami, a black enthusiast for the Empire, whose downfall can only be prevented by membership at an all-white club.

30 review for Burmese Days

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra wonders how life without books would be?

    Totally rewritten 19th May 2013. Set in the days of the Empire, with the British ruling in Burma, this book describes corruption and imperial bigotry. Although this was Orwell's first book and no doubt based in part on his experiences in his first job as a policeman in Burma, his talent is already fully developed, the writing is superb, the characterisations rounded and lively. Another of his stories from this time and location is also a favourite of mine, Shooting an Elephant Burmese Days is esse Totally rewritten 19th May 2013. Set in the days of the Empire, with the British ruling in Burma, this book describes corruption and imperial bigotry. Although this was Orwell's first book and no doubt based in part on his experiences in his first job as a policeman in Burma, his talent is already fully developed, the writing is superb, the characterisations rounded and lively. Another of his stories from this time and location is also a favourite of mine, Shooting an Elephant Burmese Days is essentially all about a load of unlikeable, vapid people who belong to an extremely boring club where nothing happens except occasional arguments and a lot of drinking. Now why would anyone want to be a member of a club like that? Because it is a colonial society where the whites run everything and the native people, no matter what their status in the local community, have no overt power and can't even get into a club full of stupid men whose only attribute is that they are white, the ruling class. But if they could get in, then they would have power by association. The club is told they have to elect one local member. Two men try to get in. One, the honest and straightforward Dr. Veraswami, tries to get his good friend, John Flory, an English timber merchant and the main character, to use his influence on the club members. But Flory, a rather unattractive character who isn't prejudiced but is weak and so won't support the good doctor against the club members he so thoroughly dislikes but, because of race and class, identifies with. The other man, the slimy, sociopathic U Po Kyin,is prepared to wreck Veraswami's character and livelihood and see many lives be ruined and people die just in order to put himself in such a position that he becomes the only possible candidate. Then there is the love interest, another shallow, dislikeable character who can't attract anyone back home so she's been sent husband-shopping into a place where any single white woman is a rare orchid. Even her. I read the book very tongue in cheek because I also live in a colonial society (but I am either beyond the pale or have the right credentials depending on what side you are on, as I married into a local, black family. A top political family at that). The thing for locals to get into is the yacht club and the local rescue association, neither of which admit locals unless they are top politicians or lawyers and therefore useful or at least, best not offended. But as political power on the island is all in black hands, the snobbery of the yacht club is ignored but the racism noted. A while back, one of the islands, a private island resort, the sort you can helicopter into, wouldn't let blacks in as guests. The only ones there were the workers, none in managerial or even supervisory positions. A government minister sailed his very impressive 60' yacht there, anchored and dinghied to the beach. The beach staff (black, of course, but from poorer islands, so they didn't recognise him) wouldn't let him stay, told him it was against management policy, didn't believe he owned the yacht and threw him off. The following week, the island was quite suddenly sold to a company with quite different policies. Result! Now we can all sail up for free on their guest ferry for Sunday lunch (reasonable price, but the price of the drinks...) or a very pleasant, if expensive dinner, hanging out with the millionaires and pretending to be one for the day. Everyone is welcome. But what happened to the club in India, to the service organisations in the Caribbean? They are all run by posh locals now who apply their own rules for membership. Sometimes they are generous and everyone is welcome, but sometimes they continue the inherited snobbery and racism of the club founders, just from the other side not being any more liberal than their predecessors. We have the girls who come husband-shopping too. Admin staff and secretaries they are looking for white guys far from home who might go out with but would never marry a local girl and so they are the rare orchids with a two year plan contract in which to snag their man and a modified version of Jane Austen's first line in Pride and Prejudice as their mantra, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a banker or accountant in possession of an obscenely large salary must be in want of a white wife." Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose*. Read 2012. Review rewritten 2013 and 2015. Maybe next year too. *(view spoiler)[The more things change, the more they stay the same (hide spoiler)]

  2. 4 out of 5

    Henry Avila

    In the 1920's an obscure young Englishman named John Flory, obviously modeled after George Orwell himself, goes to colonial Burma to make his fortune, "The Road to Mandalay" this is not. The writer had been a policeman there also for five years. Flory becomes a timber merchant, in the north of the country and living in Kyauktada (Katha). A small town of 4,000 at the edge of the formidable jungle, but it is the capital of the district with a railroad, hospital, courts and a jail of course and the In the 1920's an obscure young Englishman named John Flory, obviously modeled after George Orwell himself, goes to colonial Burma to make his fortune, "The Road to Mandalay" this is not. The writer had been a policeman there also for five years. Flory becomes a timber merchant, in the north of the country and living in Kyauktada (Katha). A small town of 4,000 at the edge of the formidable jungle, but it is the capital of the district with a railroad, hospital, courts and a jail of course and the Irrawaddy River flowing leisurely by . The seven Europeans who constitute the entire white population there, social center is the club, all the British have one in Burma. A not very impressive or beautiful building, but it is the only place that they think, represents good old England. The foreigners naturally keep away from the Burmese, as much as possible. Still times are changing , the days of the British Raj are numbered, the world moves on. The club members are an anachronism and are too stupid, to realize it. They're living in the past, in the "Glorious Days of the Empire" that doesn't exist anymore. The Europeans mostly get drunk inside and have arguments, smoke a lot of cigarettes with some card playing and reading on the side. And always complaining about the intolerable heat and vilify the natives, as less than human especially Ellis, a bigot to the bone. Except for Flory, who has an Indian friend (causing much criticism , from the other Europeans) his only one, in the wide world, Dr. Veraswami is strangely more pro British than Flory, have loud, vigorous discussions about politics. The good doctor has an enemy, U Po Kyin a very ambitious corrupt magistrate, so fat that he can't get off a chair by himself. Intrigues are his delight in life, the more harm he causes the better his enjoyment, plus he gets more power and rupees . Being the first Burmese in the club, is his goal and nothing will stop him! Poor sensitive Mr.Flory, born with a hideous birth mark on one side of his face, which he tries to hide not very well. John likes the country and the people, the only European who does. A very sad lonely man, the biggest thing he hates is himself for his debauchery, drinking too much, native women he uses, living like the rest of the white slobs, believing himself a coward for not speaking more against British rule. The faithful servant Ko S'la, helps him to bed many times. His mistress Ma Hla May, is always asking for more money, but the dog Flo loves him. Entering the story, the inexperienced Miss Elizabeth Lackersteen, an orphan at 22 years old, no coins in her purse. She needs a place to stay, arriving in town and living with her only relative, the lush of an uncle Mr. Lackersteen and his wife. When not falling down drunk, he likes to lecherously chase the niece around the house. This is Mr.Flory's last chance for salvation, can he overcome his weaknesses, his ugliness, his self hate, to win the love of this young , attractive woman a dozen years his junior and make his life worth living ? But there is a rival Lieutenant Verrall, a military policeman newly posted for a short time in town, there is rebellion in the air. Handsome 25, loves his horses, younger son of a peer thus destitute, paying bills not his way, conceited, looking down at the other Europeans, a real creep and not a heart of gold either, in sight. But with good manners, resulting in countless women falling for him, so does foolish, desperate Elizabeth... Very informative novel that shows the evils of imperialism..

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sarah (Presto agitato)

    Poor Flory. If only he'd had the good sense to be born into an E.M. Forster novel instead of one by George Orwell, he might have had half a chance. Burmese Days, Orwell’s second book, draws on his own experiences as a police officer in imperial Burma in the 1920s. The novel describes the experiences of John Flory, an English timber merchant living in a Burmese outpost. Flory feels increasingly estranged from the other Europeans. His only real friend is a Burmese doctor, despite the disapproval of Poor Flory. If only he'd had the good sense to be born into an E.M. Forster novel instead of one by George Orwell, he might have had half a chance. Burmese Days, Orwell’s second book, draws on his own experiences as a police officer in imperial Burma in the 1920s. The novel describes the experiences of John Flory, an English timber merchant living in a Burmese outpost. Flory feels increasingly estranged from the other Europeans. His only real friend is a Burmese doctor, despite the disapproval of his fellow Englishmen. Flory finds their overt racism repulsive, though his rebellion against it is halfhearted. Flory deals with his sense of alienation as many of his fellow Europeans do, comforting himself with a Burmese mistress and vast quantities of gin. When the lovely but vapid Elizabeth Lackersteen arrives on the scene, Flory thinks he has found a kindred spirit to rescue him from his isolation. He misreads her utterly, however, resulting in some truly cringe-inducing scenes of courtship. And just in case Flory weren’t inept enough in the love department already, he gets some help when the complicated plotting of a corrupt Burmese magistrate turns him into collateral damage. Burmese Days is a scathing attack on racism and imperialism that seems in many ways ahead of its time. The novel was published in the United States before it was published in the U.K. because it was thought that it would be more palatable in a country without a direct connection to colonial India and Burma (and where the real-life models for the characters wouldn’t be recognized). It often feels like much of Orwell’s work, both his novels and essays, served as a lifelong preparation for Nineteen Eighty-Four. This is true even in Burmese Days, with a setting that little resembles Oceania. Still, the theme of isolation and repression of thought is strong: "It is a stifling, stultifying world in which to live. It is a world in which every word and every thought is censored. In England, it is hard to imagine such an atmosphere. Everyone is free in England; we sell our souls in public and buy them back in private, among our friends. But even friendship can hardly exist when every white man is a cog in the wheels of despotism. Free speech is unthinkable. All other kinds of freedom are permitted. You are free to be a drunkard, an idler, a coward, a backbiter, a fornicator; but you are not free to think for yourself. Your opinion on every subject of any conceivable importance is dictated for you by the pukka sahibs' code . . . it is a corrupting thing to live one's real life in secret. One should live with the stream of life, not against it." Despite these serious themes, Burmese Days is still an engaging story. Admittedly, most of the characters border on loathsome, painted with Orwell’s extremely dry wit. Hopefully some of them are exaggerated caricatures, but unfortunately many probably aren’t. Flory, though, despite his numerous failings, still has a certain poignant appeal. Though the odds are stacked greatly against him, it’s hard not to hope he can somehow prevail.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    Burmese Days, George Orwell Burmese Days is a novel by British writer George Orwell. It was first published in the United Kingdom in 1934. It is a tale from the waning days of British colonialism, when Burma was ruled from Delhi as a part of British India. Burmese Days is set in 1920's imperial Burma, in the fictional district of Kyauktada, based on Kathar (formerly spelled Katha), a town where Orwell served. Like the fictional town, it is the head of a branch railway line above Mandalay on the Burmese Days, George Orwell Burmese Days is a novel by British writer George Orwell. It was first published in the United Kingdom in 1934. It is a tale from the waning days of British colonialism, when Burma was ruled from Delhi as a part of British India. Burmese Days is set in 1920's imperial Burma, in the fictional district of Kyauktada, based on Kathar (formerly spelled Katha), a town where Orwell served. Like the fictional town, it is the head of a branch railway line above Mandalay on the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River. As the story opens, U Po Kyin, a corrupt Burmese magistrate, is planning to destroy the reputation of the Indian, Dr Veraswami. The doctor hopes for help from his friend John Flory who, as a pukka sahib (European white man), has higher prestige. Dr Veraswami also desires election to the town's European Club, of which Flory is a member, expecting that good standing among the Europeans will protect him from U Po Kyin's intrigues. U Po Kyin begins a campaign to persuade the Europeans that the doctor holds anti-British opinions in the belief that anonymous letters with false stories about the doctor "will work wonders". He even sends a threatening letter to Flory. ... تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه می سال 1985میلادی عنوان: روزهای برمه؛ نویسنده: جورج (جرج) اورول؛ مترجم: مرتضی مدنی نژاد؛ تهران، آوا، 1363، در 416ص؛ عنوان: روزهای برمه؛ نویسنده: جورج (جرج) اورول؛ مترجم: پروین قائمی؛ تهران، کتاب آفرین، 1363، در 367ص؛ عنوان: روزهای برمه؛ مترجم: زهره روشنفکر؛ تهران، مجید، 1389، شابک 9789644531088در 367ص؛ چاپ سوم 1392؛ چاپ چهارم 1393؛ عنوان: روزهای برمه؛ مترجم: آوینا ترنم؛ تهران، ماهابه، 1389، شابک 9789644531088در 442ص؛ عنوان: روزهای برمه؛ مترجم: فرزانه پورفرزین؛ تبریز، اختر، 1393، شابک 9789645174543در 416ص؛ روزهای برمه، همانند نوشته‌ های دیگر «جورج اورول»، یک داستان انتقادی است؛ خوانشگرانی که با آثار ایشان آشنایی دارند، و کتابهای ایشان، همچون «قلعه(مزرعه) حیوانات»؛ و یا «1984» را خوانده‌ اند، به‌ سبک و سیاق قلم شگفتی برانگیز ایشان آ‌شنا هستند؛ اورول؛ با نام اصلی «اریک بلر»، در «هند» به ‌دنیا آمده، و پدرش نیز، یک شغل اداری در «بنگال» داشته، ایشان در این کتاب شیوه ی اداره ی امپراتوری «بریتانیا»، در کشورهای مستعمره‌ را می‌نمایاند، و از نحوه ی اداره ی آن، انتقاد می‌کند؛ در این کتاب شاید ایشان تجربیات خودشان را، در کشورهای مستعمره ی «انگلستان»، به ‌رشته ی نگارش درآورده اند؛ «اورول» اندیشه ‌های نقادانه ‌اش را، از دید قهرمان داستانش، به ‌زبان می‌آورد؛ شخصیت اصلی این داستان، که خود یک تبعه ی «انگلیس» است، از اوضاعی که بر مردمان کشور «برمه» می‌گذرد، به ‌شدت بیزار است، و در هر فرصتی از آن انتقاد می‌کند؛ در حالیکه خود مردم «برمه»، به آن زندگی عادت کرده‌ اند، شخصیت اصلی رمان نسبت به وضعیت، ابراز انزجار می‌کنند؛ اما او آدمی ترسو است، و نمی‌تواند باورهای خویش را آشکارا نشان دهد؛ زیرا می‌داند که تمام اروپاییهای ساکن «برمه»، از شیوه ی حکومت بر مردمان «برمه» راضی، و حتی خواهان وارد آوردن فشار بیشتر بر آنها هستند؛ «اورول» ترس و بزدلی قهرمان داستانش را، با یک لکه ی مادرزادی روی صورتش، می‌نمایاند، که همیشه باعث شرمساری اوست، و او سعی دارد آن را از دید همگان پنهان نگه دارد نقل نمونه متن: «یوپوکین، رییس دادگاه جانبی بخش کیائوکتادا، واقع در قسمت بالای برمه، در ایوان خانه اش نشسته بود؛ با آنکه هنوز ساعت هشت ونیم صبح بود؛ اما چون ماه آوریل بود، هوا آنچنان غمگین و ابری بود که نوید ساعتهای کشدار و خفقان آور ظهر را میداد؛ باد با وزشی ضعیف و به طور تصادفی که در نتیجه تضاد با وضعیت جوّی خنک به نظر میرسید، نهال نخلهای خرمایی را که تازه خیس و از کنار بام آویزان شده بود، حرکت میداد؛ پشت نهالهای خرما، تنه ی خمیده و خاک آلود یک نخل، به چشم میآمد و بعداز آن، یک آسمان تمام آبی و آتشین بود؛ چند کرکس در بالاترین نقطه ی آسمان که چشم از دیدنش حیران میماند، در حالیکه بی هیچ تکانی به بالهایشان چرخ میزدند در حال پرواز بودند یوپوکین همچون یک بت چینی بزرگ بی آنکه پلک بزند، به تابش مستقیم خورشید، چشم دوخته بود؛ او مردی پنجاه ساله و آنقدر چاق بود، که سالها میشد بی کمک دیگران، از روی صندلی اش هرگزی بلند نشده بود؛ اما با این وجود، در چاقی او یک نوع تناسب، و زیبایی در اندامش نمایان بود؛ چون وقتی مردم برمه چاق میشوند، مثل سفیدپوستان پشتشان خم نمیشود، و شکم نمیآورند؛ بلکه همچون میوه ای رسیده، متورم و به طور یکنواختی چاق میشوند. صورت یوپوکین، پهن و زرد بود، و هیچ چین و چروکی نداشت، و چشمهایش هم سیاه بود؛ همیشه پابرهنه و پاهایش تُپُل و چاق بود، و کف پایش هم بسیار گود بود، و همه ی انگشتهای پایش هم به یک اندازه، و عین موهای سرش، که همیشه آنها را از ته میتراشید بود؛ اغلب، یک لباس بومی که عبارت بود از یک لُنگ اراکان به رنگ روشن، که راه راهایی به رنگهای سبز و سرخ داشت، و اهالی برمه آن را، در غیر زمان رسمی میپوشیدند، به تن میکرد؛ او از درون یک جعبه لاک و الکل زده ای که روی میز بود، ساقه سانی برداشت، و مشغول جویدنش شد؛ همانطور که مشغول جویدن آن بود، گذشته اش را به یاد میآورد گذشته اش بسیار درخشان، و همراه با موفقیت بود؛ یوپوکین هرچه زمان کودکی اش، در دهه 1880میلادی را مرور میکرد، خودش را از نوع بچه های پاپتی ای میدید، که با شکمی متورم، در کنجی ایستاده، و در انتظار ورود پیروزمندانه جوخه های ارتش سربازهای انگلیسی ای که به ماندالی میآمدند، نگاه میکرد؛ او به یاد میآورد که چطور در آن هنگام از عبور ستونهای منظم سربازان غول پیکری که در اثر خوردن گوشت گاو چهره های سرخی داشتند، و کتهای سرخ پوشیده، و تفنگهای بلندی بر دوش گرفته بودند، و صدای هماهنگ و سنگین پوتینهای آنها، ترسیده بود؛ چنانکه بعداز آنکه یکی دو دقیقه آنها را تماشا کرده بود، ترجیح داد تا از آنجا بگریزد؛ او با عقل کودکانه اش، نتیجه گرفته بود که هم میهنانش نمیتوانند در برابر این سربازان غول پیکر، مقاومت کنند؛ بنابراین در همان دوران طفولیت، دلش میخواست در کنار سربازهای انگلیسی بجنگد، و یا همچون انگلی، خودش را به آنها بچسباند.»؛ پایان نقل نقل نمونه دیگر از متن: «کلاغهای سبز را موقعی که زنده هستند، کسی نمیتواند ببیند؛ آنها در مرتفعترین نقاط درخت، زندگی میکنند، و هرگز به زمین نمیآیند، مگر آنکه بخواهند آب بنوشند؛ موقعی که کسی آنها را با تیر میزند، اگر فورا کشته نشوند، خودشان را به درختی آویزان میکنند، تا بمیرند، و این کار آنقدر طول میکشد، تا شکارچی خسته شود، و برود؛ از اینکه حتی جسدشان، به دست قاتلشان بیفتد، نفرت دارند»؛ پایان نقل تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 12/09/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی

  5. 4 out of 5

    Khush

    I like Orwell's politics and vision. It is amazing to see how far he has gone in exposing 'untruths' and fighting 'injustices. 'Throughout his life, he remained steadfast in his politics. This makes him an admirable figure. We need writers like him even more today, but I wonder if there is any scope for such a man especially in First World countries where one does not know who Big Brothers and Winstons are; maybe they have merged into one entity, making the world even more intriguing than it eve I like Orwell's politics and vision. It is amazing to see how far he has gone in exposing 'untruths' and fighting 'injustices. 'Throughout his life, he remained steadfast in his politics. This makes him an admirable figure. We need writers like him even more today, but I wonder if there is any scope for such a man especially in First World countries where one does not know who Big Brothers and Winstons are; maybe they have merged into one entity, making the world even more intriguing than it ever has been. 'Burmese Days' shows us the man who is fighting injustice in whatsoever form it presents itself. Here the setting is British Rule in the subcontinent, and the reader sees how they exert power over the natives. One among the English, John Flory, fights the dubious practices of the rulers in everyday matters, For instance, the English men at club oppose an Indian doctor's membership to the club, Flory fights his colleagues. So one sees two kinds of English men in colonies; the majority that exploits the 'natives' and a minuscule number of English men who defends the rights of the natives. Indeed, a perfect arrangement. I guess until we have people, groups, nations who are in a position to help 'others' we are in a terrible place because such a situation arises out of inequalities in the first place. For instances, in Nordic countries it is not that one rich man is helping 50 others just out pity; such gestures of 'help' are often seen in more primitive societies, where such a helper and his ancestors must have built their riches by exploiting the majority population. So while one admires people who try to bring injustices down, but very often they are more or less come from the same class. And no matter how honest they are, they are never wholly saintly, their own prejudices and complicity leak in unguarded moments. Flory, a friend of Indian doctor and great champion of equality and so forth, is once seen loathing his orderly who spoke to him in English (Here, we see his snobbery first hand; I am not sure, though, if this was intentional, or could this be Orwell himself, by default, showing his own prejudices). On one level, Flory's claims to righteousness are fundamentally problematic, after all, he works for the British Raj. The second time I read this novel, I was not looking for how one good man is fighting for the rights of the others (an admirable thing, though, but an ideal situation in human life does not produce them, there is no scope for them). I was actually studying the good man himself. What is it that makes him? How come he fights the system? Are the reasons often given only embedded in goodness? Or is it just a way of exerting power from the other end? Each time I read about modern day activists, the so-called good guys, I always wonder would they still remain good if whatever they fight vanishes. Would an Indian Brahmin, who claims to fight caste in India, really be at ease in caste-less society? Would someone like Orwell, who fought against colonialism, be glad to love in today's world where England is not what it used to be? Or would he, then, resent 'democracy'? As a reader, I cannot help myself asking these questions. Or Like many, he would also resent 'democracy' today. It is these questions I cannot help thinking while reading 'Burmese Days.'

  6. 5 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    There’s a map of the village of Kyautada in my edition of Burmese Days, a map which is based on a drawing done by Orwell himself. My heart skips when I see a map in a book; I know immediately that the geography of the place will be somehow important, and Orwell’s map, with little arrows tagged UP and DOWN alongside the roads, gives an almost three-dimensional idea of the terrain, showing that the village was built on the side of a hill. The few buildings strewn along the slope are tagged with th There’s a map of the village of Kyautada in my edition of Burmese Days, a map which is based on a drawing done by Orwell himself. My heart skips when I see a map in a book; I know immediately that the geography of the place will be somehow important, and Orwell’s map, with little arrows tagged UP and DOWN alongside the roads, gives an almost three-dimensional idea of the terrain, showing that the village was built on the side of a hill. The few buildings strewn along the slope are tagged with their owners’ names. At the bottom of the hill, he’s drawn in the broad expanse of the River Irrawaddy and at the top of the hill, a large shaded area, which he has simply tagged ‘Jungle’. When you begin reading, you know that the story will take place on this rather narrow slope of land between the jungle and the river, and for me, that information spelled danger. The book opens with the hatching of a rather diabolical plot so the suspicion of danger is confirmed and the tone of the story is set from the beginning. I was slightly disappointed that the descriptions of nature promised by this hillscape between jungle and river were so few but the scattering of houses on the map are far more significant than they look at first. In fact, most of the story takes place in one or other of these houses, or in the little cube marked ‘Club’, its back set to the river, and to which the main characters make their way before breakfast, at noon, and every evening of their Kyautada lives. They sit in their club, as in all such Kipling-haunted little Clubs, whisky to the right of you, Pink’un to the left of you, listening and eagerly agreeing while Colonel Bodger develops his theory that these bloody Nationalists should be boiled in oil. The club, needless to say is exclusively white and the plot of the book revolves around it remaining that way. Or not. The promising strip of jungle on the upper edge of the map has a role to play in the story, as does the river, but too much of the book is concerned with the sayings and doings of the sahiblog, the little group of agents of the British Empire who gather in the club at Kyautada, and they are a particularly unpleasant group. But thanks to Orwell’s talent as a writer, he somehow manages to squeeze an interesting story out of such unpromising material. If he were alive today, I would love to talk to him about this book and his motivations for writing it. Of course that’s impossible, but the next best thing is to take a look at what he said about this book when he was alive, in Why I Write: From an early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer...When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words..As for the need to describe things, I knew that already. So it is clear what kind of books I wanted to write, in so far as I could be said to want to write books at that time. I wanted to write enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were partly used for the sake of their sound. And in fact my first complete novel, Burmese Days, which I wrote when I was thirty but projected much earlier, is rather that kind of book. But already in Burmese Days, for all his attempts at ‘purple passages’ and ‘arresting similes’, there is a definite leaning towards the type of social criticism that was to become the focus of Orwell’s later writing. The Indian Empire is a despotism - benevolent, no doubt, but still a despotism with theft as its final object...There is a prevalent idea that the men at the ‘outposts of Empire’ are at least able and hardworking. It is a delusion. Outside the Scientific Forces - the Forest Department, the Public Works Department and the like - there is no particular need for a British official in India to do his job competently.. The real work of administration is done mainly by natives. Burmese Days, p. 69 In Why I Write he explains how he came to definitively turn his back on the Burmese Days type novel. In a peaceful age, I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming something of a pamphleteer. First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc. Fortunately for us, those later life experiences gave Orwell material for some of his finest writing, Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia as well as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four. I need to read more Orwell.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Daren

    My second reading of Orwells Burmese Days. I read it originally in 2007, when I picked up a copy in a second hand bookshop / barbershop (I have a feeling it was Mandalay, but I am not sure). I didn't recall much from it, and a middling 3 stars was where it sat when I was backfilling some books read upon joining Goodreads. Having read a few reviews by other readers lately I decided to embark on a rare (for me) re-read. Set in a small town in Burma (Myanmar now), in the 1920s, while a part of the B My second reading of Orwells Burmese Days. I read it originally in 2007, when I picked up a copy in a second hand bookshop / barbershop (I have a feeling it was Mandalay, but I am not sure). I didn't recall much from it, and a middling 3 stars was where it sat when I was backfilling some books read upon joining Goodreads. Having read a few reviews by other readers lately I decided to embark on a rare (for me) re-read. Set in a small town in Burma (Myanmar now), in the 1920s, while a part of the British Empire, Orwell's first book explores the relationship of the sahib and the native. The few white men in the town regularly frequent the 'club' where natives are not permitted as members, al though they have been instructed by the powers that be, that they must elect one native member. Flory, who runs a timber extraction operation, is one of the least popular white men, is far too appreciative of the native culture, and is even friends with a native doctor, the anglophile Dr Veraswami. But his is weak willed, and will not support the doctor as a member, for fear of the scorn of his fellow members. U Po Kyin, the other man in a position of power who aches to become a member is a manipulator and plotter, and sets about to undermine Veraswami and also Flory in an attempt to become the only suitable candidate. As well as this, the niece of another British couple has arrived, and while her uncle is desperate to take advantage of her, her aunt is equally desperate to marry her off. Circumstances send her Flory's way, and he falls hopelessly in love with her, but stumbles through each opportunity and eventually a rival appears. The book successfully shows the British to be loathsome, full of superiority and racial prejudice. The exception being Flory, who is a weak and for the most unwilling to stand up to his peers. Orwell, born in India, and later having spent five and a half years as a policeman in various parts of Burma, displays a deep understanding of the colonial situation in this novel. With the overtly racist characters it is a jarring read, but then I rather suspect Orwell set out to achieve that. It certainly captures a cynical and negative view of colonialism. With the re-read it gains a star - easily 4 star, but perhaps lacking a little rounding out of the characters that might have gained 5 stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    This always happens to me: I seem to forget how beautiful and almost effortless Orwell’s prose is, only to be stunned by his talent the next time I pick up one of his books. Even when he writes about mundane things, his turn of phrase has an elegance that few others have mastered – and that dry, razor-sharp British sense of humor adds a colorful layer to his narratives. Just a couple of pages into “Burmese Days”, I was both laughing bitterly and sighing in admiration at the wonderful language he This always happens to me: I seem to forget how beautiful and almost effortless Orwell’s prose is, only to be stunned by his talent the next time I pick up one of his books. Even when he writes about mundane things, his turn of phrase has an elegance that few others have mastered – and that dry, razor-sharp British sense of humor adds a colorful layer to his narratives. Just a couple of pages into “Burmese Days”, I was both laughing bitterly and sighing in admiration at the wonderful language he used to tell this rather devastating story. I also could hardly put the book down, and growled at anyone who interrupted my reading. In some ways, “Burmese Days” reminded me of E.M. Forster’s “A Passage to India” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), but harsher, grittier in its description of bigotry and corruption. Just like Forster, Orwell lived in South East Asia and saw how his fellow Englishmen saw the native population, and treated both them and their local resources – and the different ways the Burmese and Indians reacted to this imperialism. Obviously, he hated what he saw. This is not “1984” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) or “Animal Farm” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), but it is nevertheless a scathing social criticism of colonialism and its repercussion – both on the colonists and colonized. Orwell knew that the problems faced by everyone involved in this situation were complex and intricate, and had no easy solutions. Dr. Veraswami’s only hope of avoiding the persecution of a corrupt magistrate is to be elected as a member of an all-white Club, as this strange power of association would give him enough prestige to stay safe. He has one hope, that his friend John Flory, who loathes the open racism his compatriots spew all day long over drinks, will help him acquire this coveted membership. But Flory doesn’t have the strength of his convictions, and U Po Kyin, the slimy magistrate, will exploit this weakness of character to his own ends. Orwell never really seems to write likable characters, but he makes his pathetic and despicable ones very layered and well-rounded. Flory’s sense of alienation and despair is perfectly captured; I kept hoping he’d get his shit together, but I didn’t think it was very likely. He feels enormous guilt for being complicit in the exploitation and abuse he witnesses, but can’t bring himself to rebel against it entirely. I wondered how much of himself (or a young version of himself) Orwell poured into this tormented timber merchant, how much of what Flory experiences echoes how Orwell felt during the five years he spent in Burma. He did say that much of the book was simply reporting things he had seen during his stay there, to the point where his publishers were originally worried about libel suits… Orwell didn’t think this was his most political work, and later decided that he would no longer indulge in what he felt was purple and decorative writing, because the world he lived in was not a peaceful place, which made him feel he had a responsibility to infuse his writing with political purpose. It might not have been the driving inspiration behind “Burmese Days”, but it is nevertheless a beautifully written but heartbreaking and unflinching look at a terrible time and place of our history. A must-read for Orwell fans.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    Imagine sitting in a small, dark room with George Orwell sitting ten inches away from you shouting the words, "RACISM" and "IMPERIALISM" at you for two hours. That's what it's like reading this novel. Orwell wants to get his message across so strongly that he completely forgets that coherent plots and characters are essential in fiction. However I must say that Burmese Days is written very well (as with all of Orwell's works) and it has a disgustingly pessimistic ending (which is always a major Imagine sitting in a small, dark room with George Orwell sitting ten inches away from you shouting the words, "RACISM" and "IMPERIALISM" at you for two hours. That's what it's like reading this novel. Orwell wants to get his message across so strongly that he completely forgets that coherent plots and characters are essential in fiction. However I must say that Burmese Days is written very well (as with all of Orwell's works) and it has a disgustingly pessimistic ending (which is always a major bonus in my literate tastes).

  10. 5 out of 5

    B0nnie

    "The whole body of policemen, military and civil, about a hundred and fifty men in all, had attacked the crowd from the rear, armed only with sticks. They had been utterly engulfed. The crowd was so dense that it was like an enormous swarm of bees seething and rotating. Everywhere one could see policemen wedged helplessly among the hordes of Burmans, struggling furiously but uselessly, and too cramped even to use their sticks. Whole knots of men were tangled Laocoon-like in the folds of unrolle "The whole body of policemen, military and civil, about a hundred and fifty men in all, had attacked the crowd from the rear, armed only with sticks. They had been utterly engulfed. The crowd was so dense that it was like an enormous swarm of bees seething and rotating. Everywhere one could see policemen wedged helplessly among the hordes of Burmans, struggling furiously but uselessly, and too cramped even to use their sticks. Whole knots of men were tangled Laocoon-like in the folds of unrolled pagris." Burmese Days 1934 "It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages." A Hanging 1931 "With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorm, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts." Shooting an Elephant 1936 It is interesting to note that the main distinction between these two great essays by Orwell, Shooting an Elephant and A Hanging, and his novel, Burmese Days, is length. All have plot, characters, vivid descriptions, the protagonist conveying his ideas and thoughts through the telling of a story. Where fiction becomes fact is not clearly defined. If the protest "but Flory is a character" has merit, one could say the same of the speaker in the essays. Did these events really happen? Was there a dog, does Orwell really remember exactly what was said? For that matter, did he ever shoot an elephant or see a hanging? There is some doubt. However there is no doubt of the truth of what is conveyed, even if one can pick apart each and every incident recounted. Fiction and soi-disant nonfiction both have their lies and truths, but which is which is not always apparent. To belabour the point: "Art is a lie I use to tell the truth." Picasso "The truth is more important than the facts." Frank Lloyd Wright "Is there anything truer than truth? Yes, Legend." Kazantzakis "These things never were, but always are." Sallust Burmese Days, as is often noted, is influenced by Of Human Bondage, Lord Jim and Passage to India. But combined with Orwell’s experience in Burma, and his sharp perceptions, it is a satire with beauty, heartbreak, cruelty and madness. John Flory, the protagonist, had been in Burma fifteen years. Orwell was there for five. The exoticness of Burma had captivated Orwell, and it is rendered quite wonderfully in this his first novel. "The sun circled low in the sky, and the nights and early mornings were bitterly cold, with white mists that poured through the valleys like the steam of enormous kettles." "There was no lawn, but instead a shrubbery of native trees and bushes--gold mohur trees like vast umbrellas of blood-red bloom, frangipanis with creamy, stalkless flowers, purple bougainvillea, scarlet hibiscus and the pink Chinese rose, bilious-green crotons, feathery fronds of tamarind. The clash of colours hurt one's eyes in the glare. A nearly naked mali, watering-can in hand, was moving in the jungle of flowers like some large nectar-sucking bird." "Unblinking, rather like a great porcelain idol, U Po Kyin gazed out into the fierce sunlight. He was a man of fifty, so fat that for years he had not risen from his chair without help, and yet shapely and even beautiful in his grossness; for the Burmese do not sag and bulge like white men, but grow fat symmetrically, like fruits swelling. His face was vast, yellow and quite unwrinkled, and his eyes were tawny. His feet--squat, high-arched feet with the toes all the same length--were bare, and so was his cropped head, and he wore one of those vivid Arakanese longyis with green and magenta checks which the Burmese wear on informal occasions. He was chewing betel from a lacquered box on the table, and thinking about his past life." Orwell's own assessment: "The descriptions of scenery aren't bad, only of course that is what the average reader skips." Don’t skip them if you want to be in Burma with Orwell. Although it does get a bit out of hand occasionally, I would not call it *purple prose*. And there are so many scenes that are brilliantly handled, and often with a dash of dry wit and subtle irony. Orwell is Flory, almost as much as he is the shooter in the essay. He was part of the imperialist empire, yet an outsider too. He could not play the role of the pukka sahib. He was too admiring of the natives, the land, the language, the culture – and he hated the role of exploiter, hating how his fellow Englishmen were so intolerant and chauvinistic - these same ideas are found in Shooting an Elephant and A Hanging. Burmese Days is very visual indeed and I am surprised it has never been filmed. In 1936, Orwell wrote to his agent, "I don’t think personally the idea of dramatising 'Burmese Days' is much good, but it might be worth while getting an expert opinion." That expert might be Ralph Fiennes, who is looking at doing Burmese Days, based on an adaptation by John Henry Butterworth. Apparently he wants to be John Flory, and he’s sent the script to Roger Michell director of Notting Hill. Hmm. Luckily Fiennes has had some practise at playing the ugly guy. "The first thing that one noticed in Flory was a hideous birthmark stretching in a ragged crescent down his left cheek, from the eye to the corner of the mouth. Seen from the left side his face had a battered, woebegone look, as though the birthmark had been a bruise--for it was a dark blue in colour. He was quite aware of its hideousness." "New-tick Flory does look rum, Got a face like a monkey's bum." "But Flory had lived down 'Monkey-bum' in time. He was a liar, and a good footballer, the two things absolutely necessary for success at school." Naturally Orwell is as droll as ever here. It’ll be amusing to see Fiennes made-up as Flory - and saying words like pyinkado, frangipani, longyi, thakin, tuktoo, pwe, sahiblog, dacoity, and thathanabaing. And not smiling.

  11. 4 out of 5

    W

    George Orwell spent five years in Burma (now Myanmar) as an imperial policeman. He eventually became disillusioned enough by his experiences to resign from his job. The decision cost him dearly,he would fall on hard times after that. This book has parallels with E.M.Forster's A Passage to India and seems to be influenced by it. Both books take a look at racial attitudes,an Englisman's friendship with an Indian doctor and feature an English girl who goes off to the colonies to get married and brea George Orwell spent five years in Burma (now Myanmar) as an imperial policeman. He eventually became disillusioned enough by his experiences to resign from his job. The decision cost him dearly,he would fall on hard times after that. This book has parallels with E.M.Forster's A Passage to India and seems to be influenced by it. Both books take a look at racial attitudes,an Englisman's friendship with an Indian doctor and feature an English girl who goes off to the colonies to get married and breaks it off. I first encountered George Orwell with an essay from this book,Shooting an Elephant,back in high school. It lacked context,however. Years later,I read the whole thing. It is a pessimistic book,it does not have a happy ending. It wasn't an easy book to get published. It was rejected several times for fear of controversy that it was based on real people,which it seems that it was. Orwell denounces imperial bigotry,not an easy thing to do in those days. It is not a page turning story. Its significance lies in the boldness of its themes. It describes the dark side of the British Raj.In the imperial view,"natives were natives,interesting no doubt...but finally an inferior people".

  12. 5 out of 5

    Daniela

    This was my first Orwell 's novel and coincidently it was also Orwell's first novel. It shows. Burmese Days is essentially about the pettiness and cruelty of colonial society. The novel follows a set of characters but decides, eventually, to focus on John Flory, a timber merchant who is stuck in Burma (Myanmar nowadays) due to his lack of prospects elsewhere. Flory has a love-hate relationship with the land that grants him a living. He hates the white colonial society, with its racism and arroga This was my first Orwell 's novel and coincidently it was also Orwell's first novel. It shows. Burmese Days is essentially about the pettiness and cruelty of colonial society. The novel follows a set of characters but decides, eventually, to focus on John Flory, a timber merchant who is stuck in Burma (Myanmar nowadays) due to his lack of prospects elsewhere. Flory has a love-hate relationship with the land that grants him a living. He hates the white colonial society, with its racism and arrogance, and he clearly admires the Burmese people and their ways. This admiration, however, is constantly stiffled because he, a white man, could never openly admire the "natives" without causing some major scandal. What is absurd is that this white society in which the so-called scandal would be given any attention is composed of less than 10 white people. As Flory himself admits there would be no serious consequence for him if he were to defy the unspoken and unwritten rules of colonial sociability. But he is a coward, and he hates conflict. He persists in his feebleness. It is hard to simpathize with any of the characters. They are all either detestable or pathetic or ridiculous. The ending is predictably unhappy. Burmese Days is well written because Orwell is incapable of bad writing. Still, it lacks proper structure and character development. Above all, it lacks subtlety. Everything is very much in your face in a way that grows tiring even for such a short novel. Still, and perhaps paradoxically, Orwell's anger - which is clear and palpable - at the utter injustice and absurdity of the reality of the British Empire is the best thing about this book. He takes all the myths about British Imperialism (the "benovelent rule", the "we brought civlization", the "competence of the officials") and destroys them. That I did enjoy.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Paula Bardell-Hedley

    Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pseudonym George Orwell, was a novelist, essayist, journalist and book critic. He was born in British-ruled India in 1903 and served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma from 1922 to 1927. This experience inspired his first novel, Burmese Days, which was first published in the USA in 1934. Orwell later commented: "...the landscapes of Burma, which, when I was among them, so appalled me as to assume the quality of nightmare, afterward stayed so hauntingly Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pseudonym George Orwell, was a novelist, essayist, journalist and book critic. He was born in British-ruled India in 1903 and served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma from 1922 to 1927. This experience inspired his first novel, Burmese Days, which was first published in the USA in 1934. Orwell later commented: "...the landscapes of Burma, which, when I was among them, so appalled me as to assume the quality of nightmare, afterward stayed so hauntingly in my mind that I was obliged to write a novel about them to get rid of them." My Penguin Modern Classics edition of this book has A Note on the Text by Peter Davison, a former president of The Bibliographical Society and editor of its journal; and an Introduction by Emma Larkin, the American author of Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, who describes Burmese Days as “a heady blend of fact and fiction.” Larkin believes it was during Orwell's time in Burma (now known as Myanmar) that he was, “transformed from a snobbish public-school boy to a writer of social conscience who sought out the underdogs of society.” Indeed, he was an apparatchik during the dying days of the Raj, and it is well documented that he hated his job with the police - the experience leaving him with an immutable loathing of imperialism and authority in general. Almost everyone in Orwell's far-flung town of Kyauktada is corruptible given expedient circumstances (or at the very least, too drunk or self-obsessed to care what is happening around them), though some, such as local magistrate U Po Kyin, are especially skilled in the art of deception. Even Orwell's protagonist, John Flory, a white timber-merchant who defies convention by befriending a native, is something of an anti-hero. He lacks the courage of his convictions and is loathe to stir up trouble at his all-white Club. He is, however, a shade more enlightened than his compatriots. I found it almost impossible to develop even the slightest feelings of compassion for any of the characters in this novel: they were, with the sole exception of the honourable Dr. Veraswami, a thoroughly contemptible bunch of bullies, sots and unprincipled degenerates. But that, I believe, is exactly what Orwell intended. This isn't The Trouser People or The Glass Palace (although there are some evocative descriptions of the jungle and its wildlife), rather, it is a crushing indictment of colonial rule. Burmese Days is a provocative tale of identity, loneliness, ignorance, racism and greed. In Orwell's own words: "I dare say it's unfair in some ways and inaccurate in some details, but much of it is simply reporting what I have seen."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Quo

    It is a surprise to read George Orwell's "other books", those well beyond his 2 most famous works. Sometimes, I feel as if Orwell writes as if he is in the mode of an anthropologist, as in The Road to Wigan Pier and at other times someone who has just gone undercover to gather evidence of a crime, as in Burmese Days. Obviously, George Orwell changed a great deal while representing Great Britain in Burma, most unhappy with the role of his government's stance while working in Burma but also, seemi It is a surprise to read George Orwell's "other books", those well beyond his 2 most famous works. Sometimes, I feel as if Orwell writes as if he is in the mode of an anthropologist, as in The Road to Wigan Pier and at other times someone who has just gone undercover to gather evidence of a crime, as in Burmese Days. Obviously, George Orwell changed a great deal while representing Great Britain in Burma, most unhappy with the role of his government's stance while working in Burma but also, seemingly quite unhappy in his own skin. There are frailties with this novel and while I did enjoy the context of Orwell's tale set in colonial Burma, it does not seem all that well developed, particularly the ending. I kept wondering what Graham Greene or Somerset Maugham or Rudyard Kipling would have done with this setting & my conclusion is that they would have made the characters rather more complex and the story considerably more memorable. There were, one supposes, colonial types who were more even-tempered, who found the people they were living in the midst of to be marginally interesting, at least not being completely antagonistic toward the Burmese. Life as a colonial administrator in Burma presents many ups & downs for Flory, the main character in this story & the presence of Elizabeth does seem to change him somewhat. Ultimately however, he seems almost beyond redemption. I have lived in a post-colonial, formerly British & recently independent country and while there was definitely residual evidence of remaining British who continued to feel completely superior to the folks they had governed, there were also many who wished the new country and its people good fortune and enjoyed being in their presence, even if at times rather like a parent cautiously watching a former child come of age. I seemed to sense only extreme condescension & intolerance in Orwell's tale of Burma. Here is just one comment on the Burmese profile, from Elizabeth:Aren't the Burmese too simply dreadful? Such hideous-shaped heads! Their heads slope up behind like a tom-cats. And look at the way their foreheads slant back-it makes them look so wicked. So coarse looking, like some kind of animal. Do you think anyone could find them attractive? That black skin--I don't know how anyone could bear it!Flory responds by suggesting that..."one gets used to it after a few years in these countries", also mentioning that in places like Burma a brown skin seems more natural than a white one and that in much of the world pale skin is considered an eccentricity. I found the character of Dr. Veriswamy captivating and kept thinking that I would not have wished to be a part of a club that barred him from membership. All clubs do seem to have a hierarchy and bylaws seldom change quickly once in place but I hoped for at least a greater show of support for Veriswamy, given that he appeared to be what the British hoped to develop in their colonial subjects. Instead, there was almost nothing but gross insensitivity & racism, though perhaps my attitude is unrealistic, given the time & place. Lastly, I was disappointed by the ending, even if it may have mirrored something that happened in the author's own life. But in spite of my misgivings, the novel pulled me forward and I was glad that I'd finally taken the time to read it, so much so that I would very much like to make my way at some point to the sleepy port town in lower Myanmar where Burmese Days is set.

  15. 5 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    George’s fictionalised account of his time in Burma with our brave old lads in the Indian Imperial Police. Flory is our antihero, desperately striving for decency and brotherhood and love in a moral backwater populated by the drunk whore-mongering Old Guard English and corrupt local blackmailers, rapists and tyrants (rolled into one here as U Po Kyin). Caught in the middle are the unfortunate Burmese and Indians trapped in an easily manipulated honour system, ruled over with contempt by the inst George’s fictionalised account of his time in Burma with our brave old lads in the Indian Imperial Police. Flory is our antihero, desperately striving for decency and brotherhood and love in a moral backwater populated by the drunk whore-mongering Old Guard English and corrupt local blackmailers, rapists and tyrants (rolled into one here as U Po Kyin). Caught in the middle are the unfortunate Burmese and Indians trapped in an easily manipulated honour system, ruled over with contempt by the institutionally racist English masters. An unflinching depiction of yet another bleak chapter in Britain’s history of world-conquering adventures in repression and brutality. Since all the “bad” archetypes are bundled into the book (i.e. the characters whose attitudes George has to blast) the novel’s credibility is occasionally stretched. But there’s no denying these warped human dung beetles existed and befouled the planet with their pestilence for far too long. As Wayne Coyne and his Lips know well, with loving hands, evil will prevail.

  16. 4 out of 5

    E. G.

    Sketch-map of Kyauktada Introduction A Note on the Text --Burmese Days

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I’m on a bit of a George Orwell kick at the moment. Until a few months ago, my experience of Orwell’s writing was limited to the truly brilliant 1984. I’m not sure why I’d not read anything else he wrote, particularly given that I’ve read 1984 multiple times. In any event, a walking tour in Paris which took in the street where Orwell (then just plain Eric Blair) lived and which is evoked in the first scene in Down and Out in Paris and London led me to read that particular work and now I can’t ge I’m on a bit of a George Orwell kick at the moment. Until a few months ago, my experience of Orwell’s writing was limited to the truly brilliant 1984. I’m not sure why I’d not read anything else he wrote, particularly given that I’ve read 1984 multiple times. In any event, a walking tour in Paris which took in the street where Orwell (then just plain Eric Blair) lived and which is evoked in the first scene in Down and Out in Paris and London led me to read that particular work and now I can’t get enough of his writing. First published in the United States in 1934 – Orwell’s British publisher Gollanncz having turned it down fearing libel suits - Burmese Days was inspired by Orwell’s time as a member of the Imperial Police in Burma in the 1920s, when Burma was a province of British India. The novel is set in the fictional town of Kyauktada, which is squarely based on Katha, a town located 150 miles north of Mandalay, where Orwell was posted in late 1926*. It's a fierce and articulate indictment of imperialism in general and of the mindset of the British Indian colonisers in particular - equal in passion to EM Forster’s A Passage to India, if rather less so in subtlety. Orwell’s main character is John Flory, a timber merchant. An outsider in the small British community in Kyauktada, the lonely Flory despises the attitudes and preoccupations of his fellow members of the local “whites only” club, but rarely has the courage to openly speak his mind. His only real friend is Dr Veraswami, the highest ranking “native” official in the town and an ardent supporter of the British Empire, whose downfall is being plotted by the corrupt U Po Kyin. Flory, whose unsightly birthmark symbolises all that isolates him from his fellow colonialists, is torn between loyalty to his friend and the desire to avoid conflict. In my view, the main weakness of the work is in the omniscient third person narration. At times detached and ironic, it is at other times – particularly in the first part of the novel – indistinguishable from Flory’s (and presumably Orwell’s) voice. While this contributes to the lack of subtlety of the narrative, at least you’re not going to die wondering what the author really thought. And it’s a relatively minor defect in what is otherwise a powerful satire. Orwell’s prose is wonderful and his evocation of time and place is superb. In addition, his characters are memorable. The characterisation of Flory in particular – who is not particularly likeable – is very well-achieved. In his portrayal, there’s a sense of a man who is much better than his surroundings and his lack of personal moral courage allow him to be. Flory’s love interest, Elizabeth, is thoroughly unlikeable. However, even she is still portrayed with sympathy and the reason for her shallowness is understandable. This is a novel which may particularly appeal to anyone who has had experience of living in a colonial society. As a child, I lived in a place which started out as a French penal colony and which is still effectively under French rule. I remember just how shocking it was to the local whites with whom my parents mixed that they made friends with and socialised with “natives”. This was in the mid-1960s. Things may have changed, but somehow I doubt that they’ve changed very much. The colonial mindset is very hard to shift. I listened to an audiobook edition narrated by English actor Allan Corduner. He was particularly good with the male voices. However, his voices for the two young female characters left much to be desired. Although they are not sympathetic characters, this doesn’t justify making them sound approximately four times their age. *According to this article, efforts are currently being made to preserve the house in which Orwell lived in Katha.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul E. Morph

    George Orwell's first novel is a damning indictment of British Imperialism and the bigotry that allowed it to be in the first place. As you might expect, it's very well written and the prose carries you along effortlessly. It's wonderfully descriptive without being overly flowery and you really feel transported to that time. My main problem with the book is that it isn't damning enough. Perhaps it's my modern perspective or perhaps it's Orwell's often weak-chinned protagonist but I often felt Orw George Orwell's first novel is a damning indictment of British Imperialism and the bigotry that allowed it to be in the first place. As you might expect, it's very well written and the prose carries you along effortlessly. It's wonderfully descriptive without being overly flowery and you really feel transported to that time. My main problem with the book is that it isn't damning enough. Perhaps it's my modern perspective or perhaps it's Orwell's often weak-chinned protagonist but I often felt Orwell was pulling his punches. It's entirely possible I'm judging the novel unfairly based on his later, more seminal, works but I often felt myself thinking 'oh, stop messing about, George; give the bastards BOTH barrels! A lesser issue was that I just couldn't see what Flory could possibly see in Elizabeth. I mean, she was awful and it drove me up the wall that he couldn't see it. Oh, well; they do say love is blind, I suppose... Edited because my spell-checker changed the word 'bastards' to 'Asgards' for some strange reason.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    George Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days, is a damning look at British Imperialism and the effects of colonialism on both the British and the native populace. John Flory is an expatriate timber merchant who has lived in Burma for 15 years and become thoroughly jaded, spending his days drinking and whoring in a miserable haze. Then Dr Veraswami, his Indian friend, desperately implores Flory for membership to the European Club which he knows is the only thing that would save him from corrupt and George Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days, is a damning look at British Imperialism and the effects of colonialism on both the British and the native populace. John Flory is an expatriate timber merchant who has lived in Burma for 15 years and become thoroughly jaded, spending his days drinking and whoring in a miserable haze. Then Dr Veraswami, his Indian friend, desperately implores Flory for membership to the European Club which he knows is the only thing that would save him from corrupt and evil local powermonger, U Po Kyin, who is out to destroy him. With the expatriate community up in arms over the thought of a non-white club member, U Po Kyin’s machinations to usurp Veraswami’s intentions and become the club’s token native member, the arrival of the attractive but shallow Elizabeth Lackersteen, and an increasingly discontented native people, the stage is set for dramatic change for everyone. The novel looks at the imperial bigotry of the British expatriates and the dirty side of colonialism, showing how the British Empire exploited third world countries under the guise of improving the “uncivilised” natives’ lives by imposing British culture upon them. But it also examines the ways colonialism damages the expatriates psychologically, and sometimes physically, as Flory says to Veraswami: “It corrupts us, it corrupts us in ways you can’t imagine.” It takes an unflinching look at the racism and bigotry prevalent in the British expatriates’ views toward the natives and is at times hard to read for its unblemished dialogue filled with disgusting epithets uttered by many of the British characters, especially Ellis. Orwell is condemning of all of the British characters, including the anti-hero Flory, whom he writes as lazy, drunken sots sitting around aimlessly with an undeserved sense of superiority. Flory is perhaps more despicable as he is aware of the terrible nature of their behaviour but is too cowardly to stand up to them for fear of losing his comfortable existence. But the novel isn’t entirely successful in its execution. It reads like Orwell attempting to do his versions of two classic novels - Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham - and falling short. His criticisms of the expatriate community and its effects on the Burmese population are certainly valid and are rendered in a convincing way, but they lack the memorable excoriation that Conrad gave in his novella - it simply doesn’t possess the same intensity. The same is true of the Flory/Elizabeth Lackersteen romance which feels like a compressed, less powerful rendition of the tragic courtship of Philip Carey and Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage. In attempting to do two very different novels in one, much shorter novel - a searing critique of British colonialism and its effects, and a sweeping, complex romance - Orwell doesn’t accomplish either with any high degree of success. The romance is rushed and unconvincing, not to mention predictable, leading to a near hysterical and melodramatic finale that sits awkwardly in comparison to the rest of the novel. The damning of colonialism doesn’t really rise above mocking the easy targets of racist old British men - Orwell shies away from looking too deeply into U Po Kyin and Dr Veraswami’s lives, the latter of which is a key character to the story and is criminally unserved and largely ignored. Burmese Days is a decent debut novel. Orwell spent a few years in Burma as a police officer and his experiences lend weight to the descriptions of the country - the reader can feel the stifling heat of the country and tense atmosphere between the natives and the British. And Burmese Days’ anti-establishment leanings and subversive, wry tone hint at the direction Orwell’s writing would take in later novels like Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. But while Burmese Days possesses Orwell’s effortless high quality writing and piercing eye for human behaviour, it’s at times unfocused and underdeveloped in its themes and direction, both aspects that Orwell would go on to become much better at in later books. Debut novels are rarely perfect, and Orwell’s certainly isn’t, but some of its critiques at third world exploitation by richer, western countries, remain valid today and as such, Burmese Days is still a relevant novel, thought certainly one of his lesser efforts, by one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century.

  20. 5 out of 5

    John

    A solid 3.5. This was the first novel by Orwell based on his experiences as a policeman in Burma during the 1920s. The characters are all unlikeable and caricatures of English people at that time of colonial imperialism. The native people are also not see in a good light. Only the Indian doctor, Veraswami and Flory’s dog Flo are decent characters in terms of behavior. Orwell’s anti imperialism comes through clearly. Flory the timber merchant has a love hate relationship with the country. The las A solid 3.5. This was the first novel by Orwell based on his experiences as a policeman in Burma during the 1920s. The characters are all unlikeable and caricatures of English people at that time of colonial imperialism. The native people are also not see in a good light. Only the Indian doctor, Veraswami and Flory’s dog Flo are decent characters in terms of behavior. Orwell’s anti imperialism comes through clearly. Flory the timber merchant has a love hate relationship with the country. The last 10 years living a life he hates and of drunkenness and debauchery. All the characters are alienated from society. Flory is trapped amongst people he despises in a remote foreign culture with the Club the centre of their lives. Any views or opinions he has he is unable to voice and so n the alcohol fueled oppressive atmosphere he must stay silent with gritted teeth. This day to day existence makes him depressed and miserable. Elizabeth then arrives at the town as a penniless English girl who he falls in love. She is also a nasty woman who is trapped with her drunken Uncle and Aunt. She must marry or return to England in poverty. However, Flory is self conscious about a birthmark on his face and the courtship goes awry. His Burmese mistress, the handsome rotten to the core Verall as well as the local Burmese corrupt magistrate U Po Kyin all result in a perhaps inevitable end for Flory and his dog Flo. A book which is a bitter indictment of the British Empire. The racism, oppression and evils of evil imperialism shine through as well as the helplessness of the oppressors and the oppressed.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    I found this book hard work. Not because of George Orwell's style, which is plain and elegant, but because of the repellant cast of characters. The only decent person was the unfortunate doctor. At the same time, I don't believe that Orwell was exaggerating the awfulness of the people. The book filled me with shame and disgust at the attitudes and moral bankruptcy of the supposedly superior white men and women. Given their attitudes towards the people of Burma, it was hardly surprising that they I found this book hard work. Not because of George Orwell's style, which is plain and elegant, but because of the repellant cast of characters. The only decent person was the unfortunate doctor. At the same time, I don't believe that Orwell was exaggerating the awfulness of the people. The book filled me with shame and disgust at the attitudes and moral bankruptcy of the supposedly superior white men and women. Given their attitudes towards the people of Burma, it was hardly surprising that they also saw nothing wrong with going out and killing birds and animals for no good reason. The description of Flory and Elizabeth's shooting expedition will stay with me for a long time. The only good thing about it was that the people of the village acquired some meat to eat. So for me, it was a powerful but deeply unpleasant read. But then, you don't come to Orwell for something cosy!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Alaska)

    I was left wondering how I decide when a book is worth 5 stars. Good prose, check. Good characterization, check with a quibble. And it is this quibble that has me trying to make up my mind. Flory has a purple birthmark on one side of his face. He knows he is ugly, disfigured - he has known since he was a boy in public school. It seems not to have affected his self-confidence except with women. It becomes supremely important here because, of course, there is a woman. But I began to tire of hearin I was left wondering how I decide when a book is worth 5 stars. Good prose, check. Good characterization, check with a quibble. And it is this quibble that has me trying to make up my mind. Flory has a purple birthmark on one side of his face. He knows he is ugly, disfigured - he has known since he was a boy in public school. It seems not to have affected his self-confidence except with women. It becomes supremely important here because, of course, there is a woman. But I began to tire of hearing how the birthmark affected him in his every movement, his presentation to the world in general. Was this allegorical and I failed to understand? Perhaps. I recognize I'm very literal and often miss this type of literary device. That said, this is another book I looked forward to having in front of me. Some days I complain that things use up my reading time. Instead, after starting this, I gave up other things to make sure my hours with the book were never short-changed. Surely that should go on my list of things that make a 5-star book. There is also that this gives one something to mull over. Another reviewer complains that Orwell beats the drum of racism and imperialism. I know that some people are stupid - this was written between the wars - and that attitude was certainly prevalent in the time period. Instead, I wondered how a person can possibly think he is in love with someone with whom he has nothing in common. Too, I wondered how people can live in a place they hate so much they have to start the day with gin so that thet doesn't have to face how horrible a spot they are in, and that the level of alcohol rises throughout the day. Is this what men do who find life depressing? (I say this as my daughter's significant other literally lies dying of the ravages of too much alcohol consumption.) Ok, I have convinced myself that this is a 5-star read. But just barely.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    In George Orwell's essay "Why I Write," he says that his first published work of fiction, Burmese Days (1934), is the kind of book that he aspired to write at the age of sixteen when a passage from Milton's Paradise Lost sent "shivers down [his] backbone." Specifically, Orwell says that he wanted to write "enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their s In George Orwell's essay "Why I Write," he says that his first published work of fiction, Burmese Days (1934), is the kind of book that he aspired to write at the age of sixteen when a passage from Milton's Paradise Lost sent "shivers down [his] backbone." Specifically, Orwell says that he wanted to write "enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their sound." Well alrighty, then; Go 16-year old Orwell!! I'm not sure that I agree with Orwell's implication that one finds the same kind of descriptions, similes, and "purple passages" in PL to which he aspired; however, I do agree with him in saying that he achieves his teen-aged aspiration in Burmese Days. This isn't the best book I've ever read; it isn't even on my top 10 list, a telltale sign being that I am not gushing on and on about it to whomever will listen like I do with any work by Sebald, but Burmese Days certainly kept me interested and thinking the entire time I was reading it. Before I get into a discussion of the book itself, let me just say in an aside that one of the nice things about reading Orwell's non-fiction writing in The Collected Essays, Journalism, & Letters (Nonpareil Books – go to www.godine.com for more information or to purchase – comeon, it's an independent publisher – GO!!) from the time he is working on a particular fictional work is that, as I read the result of his efforts, I also am reading about the effort itself. As a writer and as an instructor of English composition, of course, I know that there is no such thing as a perfect first draft or really that any work is really ever finished, for that matter; deadlines are the only thing that really makes a writer stop. Reading through Orwell's correspondence during 1933 and '34, one sees Orwell vacillate between love and hate for this novel—typical of most writers, he is fairly pleased with what he just wrote and hates what he wrote last week. Additionally, any artist trying to get his work out to the public will appreciate Orwell's frustration as he attempts to jump through the various (and namely political) hoops of the publishing world to get his work published (or not published for fear of libel, as was the case with the one British publisher who was the first one to hold Burmese Days only to pass on it). As for the novel itself, as I was reading Burmese Days, I kept thinking of E. M. Forster's A Passage To India (1924), for Orwell's work takes a similar look at the British attitude towards India during the British Raj. Both Forster and Orwell knew firsthand about the attitude of the English towards the Indians—the way they constantly compared cultures and sneered, covertly and openly, at the natives for allowing themselves to be governed by the Empire while there was also a constant nervousness lest the native culture overtake the Brits in some form. Although it's been years since I read A Passage, I seem to remember the Indian Dr. Aziz as the more developed character than is Dr. Veraswami in Orwell's book, but both characters serve the same function—as evidence of an intelligent man who can see the laudable aspects as well as the imperfections of both cultures as well as of the political situation of colonization. It is because of their intelligence and objective view, however, that both Dr. Aziz and Dr. Veraswami are most at risk of becoming the victim when the two cultures clash. Another book this brought to mind is one I read the summer before last called The Missionary by Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan), which is set in early seventeenth-century India rather than the early twentieth century setting of Burmese Days. The heroine in The Missionary is much stronger and more likeable than the heroine in either Forster's or Orwell's novel (dare I suggest this may be because a woman wrote The Missionary?). I think the similarities between Orwell and Owenson are not as strong, although again both works examine the aspects of cultural intolerance (with the focus in The Missionary being more on religious intolerance) that are often present with imperial rule. However, I think the reason that I remembered Owenson's book while reading Orwell was because of the futility of the love affairs in both works. Both authors give hints to the reader that the affair is doomed from the beginning. Ultimately, we root for the hero, Flory, to finally win Elizabeth because he wants her more than because we think love will win, for it's difficult to imagine Elizabeth is capable of the kind of love Flory envisions. But what struck me as I read this doomed love affair is how sometimes we fall in love with an image of a person that somehow gets into our heads rather than the real person. Orwell writes this of Flory's thoughts of Elizabeth: 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. I like that passage for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I think this is the way those who justify imperial rule think about the colonial subjects. If only they would see the benefits of being in love with Empire, of having another culture usurp theirs—it would be a match made in heaven—if only … Of course, politics notwithstanding, each of these books work as a good summer read for the plot and the characters alone. Owenson creates a strong female character at a time when strong female characters were not a matter of course, Orwell creates a great villain in U Po Kyin, or "The Crocodile" as Dr. Veraswami calls him, and with all three books, you get to travel to far away lands without spending a fortune on fuel. Happy Reading and Bon Voyage!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nigeyb

    Another great George Orwell novel. Not quite as good as Coming Up for Air or A Clergyman's Daughter, but definitely better than Keep the Aspidistra Flying. I really enjoyed it, which is odd considering it is unremittingly bleak throughout. The book brilliantly evokes colonial life in Burma in the early 20th century and is clearly rooted in George Orwell's personal experience as a policeman in the country. It must have been very cathartic for George Orwell to write this novel, and get so much of Another great George Orwell novel. Not quite as good as Coming Up for Air or A Clergyman's Daughter, but definitely better than Keep the Aspidistra Flying. I really enjoyed it, which is odd considering it is unremittingly bleak throughout. The book brilliantly evokes colonial life in Burma in the early 20th century and is clearly rooted in George Orwell's personal experience as a policeman in the country. It must have been very cathartic for George Orwell to write this novel, and get so much of his unease and disgust with colonialism off his chest. That he manages to also tell a powerful love story about a repressed unhappy man who gets involved with a machiavellian Burmese magistrate only adds to the splendour of this book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    A sad, fierce and ambitious novel about the emptiness and loneliness of the waning days of the British Empire. It shows the ugliness and corruption of British class-based social structure, cultural bigotry and the harsh individual fantasies that are needed to keep the whole system afloat. It shows the future potential of Orwell, but lacks the restrained grace of his later novels. There are, however, definite glitters and shadows of both E.M. Forster and Joseph Conrad throughout. It is worth the A sad, fierce and ambitious novel about the emptiness and loneliness of the waning days of the British Empire. It shows the ugliness and corruption of British class-based social structure, cultural bigotry and the harsh individual fantasies that are needed to keep the whole system afloat. It shows the future potential of Orwell, but lacks the restrained grace of his later novels. There are, however, definite glitters and shadows of both E.M. Forster and Joseph Conrad throughout. It is worth the read for those interested in early Orwell or the decline of the post-WWI British Empire.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Pink

    It's Orwell. It's fantastic. What more is there to say? It's Orwell. It's fantastic. What more is there to say?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Overmark

    But Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, this day You have driven me from the face of the earth, and from Your face I will be hidden; I will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” “Not so!” replied the LORD. “If anyone slays Cain, then Cain will be avenged sevenfold.” And the LORD placed a mark on Cain, so that no one who found him would kill him.… I can hardly think Orwell didn´t have "Cain´s mark" in mind when creating But Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, this day You have driven me from the face of the earth, and from Your face I will be hidden; I will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” “Not so!” replied the LORD. “If anyone slays Cain, then Cain will be avenged sevenfold.” And the LORD placed a mark on Cain, so that no one who found him would kill him.… I can hardly think Orwell didn´t have "Cain´s mark" in mind when creating Mr. Flory. Mr. Flory himself lived his life in the hope of salvation, by almost any means - from himself, from the situation he had put himself in, from where there seemed no escape, and he knew all too well that he was a marked man. The love story, however touching, is just a narrative tool, but a tool used very well to reflect the frailty of the human nature. We are approximately 20 years from the time when the "British India" begin falling seriously apart. If we look at the people described in Burmese Days, they are nothing but accidents waiting to happen. Nowadays, they would have been deemed unsuitable to serve any posting abroad, but times were different back then. Hence we must also forgive the high degree of political incorrectness which runs like a river through the novel. But Orwell as an outspoken social critic had a purpose and it is quite clear, also in 2020, that he is taking a stand - and the official worries about figures and situations being too recognizable, which led to a one year delay of publishing in the UK, speaks its own language, Burmese Days hit a bit too close to home. One of the books which should leave you thinking, and feeling sorry for humanity.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    This is Orwell's first published work of fiction, and having read all of his other fiction and longer non-fiction books, it is the final major work of his I will have the opportunity to read. As Orwell is one of my favorite authors for a number of reasons, I of course have to read all of his work. The reasons I love Orwell are many: The honesty and decency of his character which shows throughout his body of work, the plain and frank nature of his prose - still so refreshing, and the bold and bra This is Orwell's first published work of fiction, and having read all of his other fiction and longer non-fiction books, it is the final major work of his I will have the opportunity to read. As Orwell is one of my favorite authors for a number of reasons, I of course have to read all of his work. The reasons I love Orwell are many: The honesty and decency of his character which shows throughout his body of work, the plain and frank nature of his prose - still so refreshing, and the bold and brave (even heroic) nature of his life. Like Bertrand Russell, he was more than just one person - where Russell was both philosopher and social crusader, Orwell was novelist, journalist and freedom fighter. To Orwell neophytes, I recommend (of course) '1984' and 'Animal Farm', and simultaneously his non-fiction 'Road to Wigan Pier'*, 'Homage to Catalonia' and 'Down and Out in Paris and London'. They are all essential. More difficult is choosing among his earlier fiction. I would rank 'Burmese Days', along with 'A Clergyman's Daughter', being the earliest two novels, as not as deftly constructed as 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying' and 'Coming Up For Air' (as well as his final fiction works, '1984' and 'Animal Farm'). His essays are of course absolutely essential, absolutely foundation, absolutely indispensable to all readers, and I wholeheartedly recommend a collection of his best essays to anyone. With 'Burmese Days', Orwell puts into fiction his experiences as an officer in the British Empire in Burma. Explanations and summaries can be found elsewhere of the work itself. I found the style crisp, smart and efficient, if perhaps a bit long. As a young author, perhaps Orwell felt the need to make his novel longer than it needs to be so as to fit the mold of a adventurous, romantic novel of its genre, as opposed to the social commentary which underlies all of his work. His later works would get leaner and more intelligent. Throughout 'Burmese Days', there is an keen intelligence which glimmers behind the story, evident in every scene. For someone with such a non-literary upbringing, his first novel is a very great accomplishment. * For those who have read Frank McCourt's ''Tis', I recommend 'Road to Wigan Pier', from which McCourt seems to have lifted entire passages detailing the squalor of mine workers' living conditions in Wigan, transplanting them to McCourt's childhood. My father alleges the lifting is almost literal.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    I tend to hold back a bit when it comes to reviewing books chalked up as ‘classics’ since behind every classic book is a classic author with an inevitable legion of fans convinced every word they penned was solid gold. When it comes to George Orwell, my brother is one of these people and was therefore delighted to lend me his copy of Burmese Days, assuring me how good it is. I’ve read a touch of Orwell before - his most famous works, 1984 and Animal Farm - and been impressed with the ideas but g I tend to hold back a bit when it comes to reviewing books chalked up as ‘classics’ since behind every classic book is a classic author with an inevitable legion of fans convinced every word they penned was solid gold. When it comes to George Orwell, my brother is one of these people and was therefore delighted to lend me his copy of Burmese Days, assuring me how good it is. I’ve read a touch of Orwell before - his most famous works, 1984 and Animal Farm - and been impressed with the ideas but generally bored by the plot. Burmese Days did not buck this trend, except for the fact that I found the ideas rather uncompelling (contrary to the previous two books) once they’d been laid down and left to be restated again and again as the plot kept trundling on. And trundle it did. For a book totalling only 300 pages, I felt like I spent a great long stretch in early 20th century Burma. Echoing the monotonous, isolated living of the British colonials, the story doesn’t really start going anywhere until past the halfway point. The reader knows that U Po Kyin is plotting something behind the scenes. There’s probably going to be a civilian rebellion at some point. The arrival of Elizabeth can’t spell anything good. But the plot only actually kicks off a sizeable way into the book. I was so lulled into the rhythm of floating like a dinghy adrift on calm seas that when things did happen, I often read past them and it only registered a moment later as, “Wait, what?”. To the book’s credit, clearly the point was not to tell an adventure story about a group of rag-tag colonials. It’s a story of ideas, like everything I’ve previously read of Orwell’s. The main point expressed is the general racist attitudes towards the natives by the colonials. Through the eyes of Flory, the only one in the bunch who accepts natives as, if not equals, actually human, Orwells commentates the general absurdness of their attitudes. In this, his style can’t be faulted. Orwell has a skill for making a point with explicitly stating it. Through Flory’s only gentle inclination against racism, the other Europeans are cast into a shady, loutish and, ironically, uncivilised light, contrasting with the general goodness of some of the natives, such as Dr Veraswami. Equally, through far less savoury Burmese characters such as U Po Kyin, a non verbalised acknowledgement is given to the breadth of ‘Oriental’ character being as wide as that amongst the Europeans. In contrast with other books from the same period that dip their toes into the vast ocean of race and nationality, it was a relief to see the Burmese regarded by the author, even if not by the characters, as human beings. As for the other human beings of the novel, well, this is one of the areas where it fell down for me. Arguably, Flory is the main character, since much of the story is told through his rather weak-willed viewpoint. To begin with, I had a lot of sympathy for his character, presented as he is as a basically good man surrounded by a bad lot. He’s introspective, disparaging of those whose society he must keep (I felt the same about the rest of the Club, so that definitely tugged my support in his favour) and a generally pretty dissatisfied man. I liked him. And then Elizabeth arrives. Elizabeth. What can I say about Elizabeth that’s not expletives or sighing. Elizabeth comes to Flory as a ray of light in the dismal grey of his life. He has such plans for how their life is going to be. He has Elizabeth all mapped out with the role she’ll play in his future life. Unfortunately, her real-life personality is far from fitting with the curious, broad-minded woman to share his troubles with that Flory desires. Yet still, since marriage prospects are thin on the ground, he continues to pursue her, overlooking all her obvious (many, glaring, unforgivable) flaws. This was where my love of Flory went Earth’s-core-bound. I can understand why he was like that about Elizabeth. She’s hateful, but he needs someone and really anyone will do at this point. Yet I still cannot quite forgive him for the lapse in judgement because … ELIZABETH. Gosh, Flory, really? I would have preferred Ellis. Ellis is a bastard, but at least he’s a thorough and consistent bastard. Elizabeth’s attitude to Flory, to basically dislike him, kind of like him, lose interest in him, like him again, loathe him, made me angry at the both of them. The character I probably should have loathed but didn’t (although I never get that feeling with Orwell’s work that characters are separated into the simplistic two columns: ‘to like’ and ‘to hate’.) U Po Kyin. Although technically villainous, U Po Kyin cuts a rather jolly, Budai figure in my mind. With his constant schemings yet plan to reach Nirvana by building a lot of pagodas just before he dies, he comes across as almost comical. I don’t think this was intentional. The reader is probably meant to marvel at the hypocrisy of such a corrupt individual. Yet I didn’t. I actually like U Po Kyin. By the end, he was possibly my favourite (after Flo, the dog. Don’t start me on how things worked out for her, okay? I’m not ready.). I’ll end with the end. Oh, Orwell. You just can’t let your characters be happy, can you? I know, I know, in real life people don’t get happy endings and his books are making poignant social and political points, I get it. But did everyone have to be so royally screwed over? It leaves me kind of dissatisfied when I’ve followed a cast of characters through three hundred pages of their lives and then the last few pages finish with: X ended up with this horrible life circumstance, Y finished his days unhappy and alone. Oh, except Elizabeth. For Elizabeth, everything turns out peachy. Typical.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Smiley

    Second Reading: Today (2016.12.18) I came across some underlined sentences in this novel as one of his six novels published in "The Complete Novels of George Orwell" (Penguin, 2009) and thought it would be OK to post some of his interestingly witty, quotable quotes out of his seemingly flowing writing. I wonder if he has meant them to be a sort of tip of thought or entertainment, the page numbers are from the mentioned six-novel volume, not from the one showing its front cover on this web page. Ha Second Reading: Today (2016.12.18) I came across some underlined sentences in this novel as one of his six novels published in "The Complete Novels of George Orwell" (Penguin, 2009) and thought it would be OK to post some of his interestingly witty, quotable quotes out of his seemingly flowing writing. I wonder if he has meant them to be a sort of tip of thought or entertainment, the page numbers are from the mentioned six-novel volume, not from the one showing its front cover on this web page. Happiness is not in money. (p. 88) Living and working among Orientals would try the temper of a saint. (p. 103) Beauty is meaningless until it is shared. (p. 122) Envy is a horrible thing. (p. 259) There is no armour against fate. (p. 308) My criterion is selecting his quotes is that I like them at first sight/reading because they inspire me and are unique, that is, I have never read/heard them before. I know some or all could be arguably debatable but, accordingly, they should need another academia requiring those brilliant students to fulfill their thirst of knowledge, pursue their formidable theses and be awarded the degrees. First Reading: From my notes. 1. There should be a section of 'Glossary Terms' for those Latin, French or Burmese (in italics) so that the readers fully understand their meanings in each context. 2. It seems to me U Po Kyin is too literate for his academic background, I don't think he knows Latin (e.g. p.273) and from the novel context, he is not a great reader and there is no information in the novel on his British university education (if any). My queries: 1) Where has he learned such Latin words/phrases? 2) What is the point of his Latin show-off among his colleagues? However, this novel is, I think, still worth reading for those admiring him as well as Orwell newcomers who would see how he has since revealed how colonialism -- the power that be -- was like to govern Burma as observed by himself as a British police officer there.

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