Burmese Days by George Orwell

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This is Orwell’s first published novel, and is to some extent based on his experiences as a Police Officer in Burma in the early 1920’s. The story is not very sympathetic towards the European characters and Orwell’s publisher was worried about possible libel suits from individuals too closely based on the author’s former associates. In the end, the book was first published in the U.S. and only after some changes were made was it released in England.

The setting is the town of Kyauktada, a settlement on the Irrawaddy in the jungles of northern Burma where English society centres on the European club membership of which, up to then is open only to the colonists. John Flory, a timber merchant is a little different from the other members of the club. He takes an interest in the local Burmese society and is friends with the Indian, Dr. Veraswami.  Flory wants to propose the doctor for membership of the club but many of the rest of the white community think him as unsuitable; one of them giving him the nickname “Dr Very slimy”.  Meanwhile the niece of another of the expats, Elizabeth Lackersteen arrives in Kyauktada and Flory is immediately smitten with her….

The story continues with various twists and turns to its conclusion but none of the characters really come out of the story with any real credit. Orwell uses local phases a lot and his descriptive writing of the jungle landscape is evocative. It’s interesting as a record of colonial life and the racist attitudes of the British to the local society.  I liked it.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

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