Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Burmese Days

Title: Burmese Days

Author: George Orwell

Number of pages: 300

Started: 1 December 2009

Finished: 9 December 2009

Opening words:

U Po Kyin, Sub-divisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, in Upper Burma, was sitting in his veranda. It was only half past eight, but the month was April, and there was a closeness in the air, a threat of the long, stifling midday hours. Occasional faint breaths of wind, seeming cool by contrast, stirred the newly drenched orchids that hung from the eaves. Beyond the orchids one could see the dusty, curved trunk of a palm tree, and then the blazing ultramarine sky. Up in the zenith, so high that it dazzled one to look at them, a few vultures circled without the quiver of a wing.

Read the whole book here.

Plot summary:

Set in the days of the Empire, with the British ruling in Burma, Burmese Days describes both indigenous corruption and Imperial bigotry, when 'after all, natives were natives – interesting, no doubt, but finally only a "subject" people, an inferior people with black faces'. Against the prevailing orthodoxy, Flory, a white timber merchant, befriends Dr Veraswami, a black enthusiast for Empire. The doctor needs help. U Po Kyin, Sub- divisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, is plotting his downfall. The only thing that can save him is European patronage: membership of the hitherto all-white Club. While Flory prevaricates, beautiful Elizabeth Lackersteen arrives in Upper Burma from Paris. At last, after years of 'solitary hell', romance and marriage appear to offer Flory an escape from the 'lie' of the 'pukka sahib pose'.

What I thought:

This was a good, if slightly sad read. I felt that I probably missed some of the finer points of it due to not quite knowing some of the issues that were behind some of the comments made – for instance a couple of authors were mentioned and I could pick up that they were not good authors, but wasn’t really sure what it was meant to show about the person who liked them because I had never heard of them. I assume they would have been known to people when the book was published.

This book was certainly different to Orwell’s more well know works, but it was an engaging read that was at times funny, at others tragic and made an interesting social history.


Anonymous said...

Oh, this is one of the two Orwells I have on my list for next year - the other being Coming Up For Air.

I've loved all the Orwells I've read so far, and this one sounds incredible as well. Thanks for the review.

Random Reflections said...

anothercookiecrumbles - it is very different to his (probably) better known books, but well worth a read. I haven't read Coming up for Air but will give it a go some time.

Sarah said...

I started this book juct over a year ago and, strange to relate, crashed out. Well, it seems strange now, because the last Orwell I read was fantastic.

I will definitely give this one another go based on your review. I will try not to worry too much about missing those finer points. I felt the same after Homage to Catalonia, even after researching the Spanish Civil War on Wikipedia!

silverseason said...

If I remember correctly from an Orwell biography, he served in the Burmese civil service police as a very young man. When he took the civil service examinations he qualified for this post because of his high scores in Latin! It seems like a good starting point for the exercise in mutual misunderstanding which the civil service represented for Orwell.

He wrote a wonderful essay called Shooting an Elephant in which he concludes that the white man shoots the elephant not because the elephant really needs to be shot but because as the ruler he must "do something" and not look like a confused fool in front of the natives.

Random Reflections said...

Sarah - I think the conclusion of the book was what made me 'enjoy' (not the right word) the book. I found it quite poignant. When I read the first few pages, I had mixed feelings, but decide to persevere and did think it was a good read. I prefer his more well known ones though.

Silver Season - Thank you for your comment. What you said gave a helpful insight into why Orwell wrote some of things he did in that book. Clearly he was not a fan of the Empire's role there and the British need to dominate other nations in that way. I might try and track down that essay. Thanks.