Review: Burmese Days by George Orwell

George Orwell's first novel is a scathing criticism of British colonial rule in Burma. Based on Orwell's (well, Eric Blair's,) experiences of working in as a police officer in the colony, the novel tells the story of arrogance, corruption and a blatant disregard for others. Flory is a British timber merchant who lives in Burma and has done for some time. He lives a life typical of a British male in the colonies, associating with other British people, most of whom he doesn't like, but pretends to anyway, just to keep face. His real friend is Dr Veraswami, but even that friendship is called into question when Dr Versaswami decides that he would like to be the first non-white member admitted to Florey's gentleman's club. Meanwhile, a local, corrupt Magistrate is also intent on damaging Dr Veraswami's reputation for personal gain. Then a beautiful, young British girl arrives in Burma, and Florey soon sets his sights on her ...

Although this one is a little long, and dull, in places, it takes an interesting and often scathing look at the lie of British colonial life in Burma. Florey, gutless, often a hypocrite, selfish and occasionally blind to the reactions of those around him (in particular the stuck up Elizabeth, who is totally out of her depth in Burma,) makes for an interesting protagonist. He's not likeable, he's a coward, he's often wrong, he pretends to himself that he's a white saviour but his actions never quite cut it, and his story ends quite badly. Meanwhile, other characters show the various other sides of British colonial life, such as the boorish and racist members of Florey's club, Dr Veraswami, who basically allows himself to be treated like dirt in the hope of being accepted by the white British men, Magistrate U Po Kyin who comes up with his own attempts to be favoured by the British and Elizabeth who is totally ill-prepared and ill-suited to life in Burma, and who is too selfish to care about anyone or anything around her. Ultimately, no one is happy, everyone is selfish and in many respects I was glad to close the back cover on them all. And that is the genius of Orwell, whose stories often reflect the best and worst parts of human nature.



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