Dan Sandman

25: Burmese Days by George Orwell

In Books, Fiction on 19/06/2015 at 12:00 pm

Burmese Days by George OrwellFirst published in America over eighty years ago, George Orwell’s first novel stands up as vital attack on British colonial rule, condemning his former employers to the harsh scrutiny of literary critics. Had Orwell just stuck to journalism, or written only documentaries, he may have been forgotten by now; but as it stands, much because of his his later novels, Orwell, for many, has become the go-to writer for readers interested in the twentieth century. His voice remains pessimistic and crystal clear, attacking the problems of the world with nothing but his pen.

This book presents colonial Burma as a corrupt and unfair country, where a gin swigging white minority rule in the name of Empire. Each character is either racist, bigoted, corrupt, tired of life, or all of the above. Even the main character Flory is an incredibly flawed human being, susceptible to living his life in a drunken haze, never able to express how he truly feels. And, like the character Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty Four, Flory’s failed attempt to find love only worsens his situation. Nothing in Orwell’s Burma is right; everything is wrong.

I think that the one thing that saves Burmese Days from being too depressing is Orwell’s dry sense of humour. There is something very British about laughing in the face of life’s troubles, and Orwell was able to do this in his early novels. It was only later, as the twentieth century got worse, following the rise of totalitarianism, that Orwell would loose his British sense of humour, writing his most famous novel whilst choking to death in the north of Scotland. So in some ways, this first novel of Orwell’s, with its Kipling-esque (although Orwell appears to hate Kipling) descriptions of an alien culture, is about as cheerful as he gets. Indeed, having read Orwell since my school days, I have come to the conclusion that Orwell chose to experience the misery of the world, and paid the price of an early death.

A tragic story.

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