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Burmese Days: A Novel Paperback – March 20, 1974
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Protagonist James Flory is a timber merchant, whose facial birthmark serves as an outward expression of the ironic and left-leaning habits of mind that make him inwardly different from his coevals. Flory appreciates the local culture, has native allegiances, and detests the racist machinations of his fellow Club members. Alas, he doesn't always possess the moral courage, or the energy, to stand against them. His almost embarrassingly Anglophile friend, Dr. Veraswami, the highest-ranking native official, seems a shoo-in for Club membership, until Machiavellian magistrate U Po Kyin launches a campaign to discredit him that results, ultimately, in the loss not just of reputations but of lives. Whether to endorse Veraswami or to betray him becomes a kind of litmus test of Flory's character.
Against this backdrop of politics and ethics, Orwell throws the shadow of romance. The arrival of the bobbed blonde, marriageable, and resolutely anti-intellectual Elizabeth Lackersteen not only casts Flory as hapless suitor but gives Orwell the chance to show that he's as astute a reporter of nuanced social interactions as he is of political intrigues. In fact, his combination of an astringently populist sensibility, dead-on observations of human behavior, formidable conjuring skills, and no-frills prose make for historical fiction that stands triumphantly outside of time. --Joyce Thompson
Verrall leaves Kyauktada without even saying goodbye to Elizabeth and she falls for Flory again. Flory is happy and plans to marry Elizabeth. However, U Po Kyin has not given up; he hires Flory's former Burmese mistress to create a scene in front of Elizabeth during the sermon at Sunday church. Flory is disgraced and Elizabeth refuses to have anything more to do with him. Overcome by the loss and seeing no future for himself, Flory commits suicide.
Dr. Veraswami is demoted and sent to a different district and U Po Kyin is elected to the Club. U Po Kyin's plans have succeeded and he plans to redeem his life and cleanse his sins by financing pagodas. He dies of apoplexy before he can even start on building and his servant envisages him returning to life as a frog. Elizabeth eventually marries Macgregor, the Deputy Commissioner. --Wikipedia --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Orwell sets his rather sordid tale in a remote station of Kyauktada in Upper Burma.
Through Orwell's considerable literary skills the reader feels the heat and rains: "...from February through May the sun glared in the sky like an angry god, then suddenly the monsoon blew westward, first in sharp squalls, then in a heavy ceaseless downpour that drenched everything until neither one's clothes, one's bed, nor even one's food ever seemed to be dry. It was still hot, with a stuffy vaporous heat. The jungle paths turned to morasses, and the paddy fields were great wastes of stagnant water with a stale mousy smell...Through July and August there was hardly a pause in the rain."
Fictional Kyauktada station consists of eight whites in the midst of thousands of Burmese. Eight whites holding on to their cribbed vision of civilization with a social life centered around a cheap whites-only club and the once-every-six-weeks visit of the Anglican priest. Although he changed the names, Orwell's characters were based on real people he encountered. The corrosive affect of colonial rule takes a toll on everyone involved, British and Burmese alike. The Anglo Indians generally display racist attitudes that ranged from an accepted sense of one's own 'natural' superiority to raging hate. The Burmese are nearly as repugnant as they scrape and bow to curry favor with grater and lesser degrees of sincerity.Read more ›
He had spent 5 years in Burma as a police officer. Why had he done that? His family was of the shabby genteel class, and his father's pension from the imperial service in India was barely enough to carry him through school. So he skipped university and did what the people in his novel do: sign up for the colonies in the hope of reasonable wealth and career.
When he quit after 5 years, he had some explaining to do. He did it with this novel.
Most first novels are autobiographic to some extent, but Orwell did something different: he figured out what he himself would have become had he stayed. His 'hero' Flory is an alter ego under the hypothical assumption of having stayed for 15 years instead of quitting after 5.
Flory has a different job, but that doesn't matter much. He is a deeply lonely and frustrated man without prospects. He is disgusted with himself and with his social crowd, the sahiblog, who enforce conformism in the most primitive way. They are generally a disgusting group of people.
Flory meets a young woman who seems the answer to his loneliness problem. For her, he might be the solution to her problem, which is the expectation of spinsterhood in poverty. They misunderstand each other thouroughly and make a huge mess of it.
The personal tragedy of Flory is framed by stories of imperial intrigues, by local officials playing Machiavelli and by the sahibs sinking into delirium tremens.
I read it first when I was working and living in other parts of the by then former Raj. I think everything would have been different if the poorpeople, the sahiblog, had had airconditioning. They might have been able to use their brains more.
It's a remarkable first novel. It still holds up and probably will for more generations because it has so much meaning.
Last year I read Orwell's essay "Shooting an Elephant" about the pressure on a young British police officer to be what both the Empire and its subjects demand. In "Burmese Days" he casts a wider net on how colonialism harms and can ultimately destroy, not only those colonized, but also those enlisted to carry out the goals of the empire.
This novel is set the remotest of outposts, so undesireable that it attracts the most undesireable cast of expats. There is no fully redeeming named character here, neither British nor Burmese.
The story centers on Flory who has humane qualities (such as respect for the Burmese as a people which is highly ununual among the expats), but his lack of confidence and his alcohol problem prevent his action most times. In his loneliness he falls in love with someone with whom he will never be able to converse... and he is desperate for a friend. The story is not about his romance, which provides heavy emotional drama, but about the situation in which a culture with superior furniture, (the Burmese are awed by imported chairs), clothes, medicine, weapons, etc. imposes itself on a poor population without any means to hold itself together in the face of an outside force with seemingly unlimited resourses.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book has the amazing ability of all great novels of really pulling you into it. Even though I haven't been to Myanmar, I feel if I were to go there, I would recognize things... Read morePublished 9 days ago by Sheng
Wonderful writing. A little gem.
Orwell's service in Burma armed him with several memorable characters and an insider's view of life in a colonial outpost.
Having visited Myanmar just last month, I could relate well. Some of the mindsets are still alive and well, especially among the foreigners living there. - Very interesting book.Published 1 month ago by Christiane Schunk
I love the novel. Orwell is one of the most gifted writers with some of the most interesting personal history.
Huge problems with this edition. Please do not buy it. Read more
Orwell’s novel is about the ugly face of empire. It takes place in a Burma that was administered by the British as part of their Indian colony—but it’s in the waning days of the... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Bernie Gourley
What a great read. Really interesting to gain an impression of Bumese culture as well as life in Britsih colonial times. Read morePublished 2 months ago by PN COULSON
This novel gives a good perspective into the depravity of empire. it speaks to the emptiness of conqering nations and the toll it takes on all involved , both the subjects and the... Read morePublished 2 months ago by william rebert
An interesting read about a time of history that people in the US know little about. I think it is worth reading as we see Orwell begin to develop the themes that appear in more... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Joseph Scamman
Read it while traveling around in Burma/Myanamar. Great experience ;-)Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer