Burmese Days

George Orwell, Penguin Modern Classics, 2001 (1934)

So the least we know is that George Orwell lived in Burma as a Colonial Policeman before its independence. In actual fact we need not know anything more to read Burmese Days and see it as a fascinating depiction of the colonial experience. Delicately, in that idiosyncratically Orwellian manner, we are invited into the world of John Flory. Flory has a deeply disillusioned approach to colonial rule, one which throughout the course of the novel is reduced to its incredibly idealistic foundations. Flory loves Burma through a tinted glass not of the picaresque and of the fanciful as per his British compatriots, but rather through an oriental lens. Everything is part of another world in Burma and Flory wants to live within it, not as part of it as such, but rather as an observer travelling through life. Burmese Days tells an agonising tale of isolation among those who would be brothers. Flory cannot and has no desire to adhere to the gentrified colonial experience and yet he doesn’t see any possibility of living as an outcast. What he really desires is to belong, but to his own kind. Happening upon a terrified Elizabeth Lackersteen one sweltering morning, a chance at real conversation sends Flory into a hereto unbeknown world of hope and possibility. Suffice it to say that Orwell’s penetrating cynicism is given its rightful place as plot driver. However, it is Orwell himself who makes this book so interesting. At face value Burmese Days seems nothing more than a love story set in the humid depths of a foreign jungle, but Orwell picks at the strings of a deeply frightened society in such a way as to make the conflict so fluid as to make it unstoppable. Machinations of social and political natures are undertaken by all but Flory and work to make his isolation even greater. Orwell had seen enough by this point to unbridle his contempt for all civil society however he was still hopeful enough to create Flory; a disillusioned individual in a seething hotpot of bitterness.

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