Monday, February 18, 2008

Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin

Emma Larkin is a pseudonym used by an American journalist based in Bangkok. She was born and raised in Asia, studied the Burmese language in London, and writes extensively about Burma (present-day Myanmar). She cannot use her real name for fear that the Burmese government would bar her from entering the country.

Larkin titled her book brilliantly. In the year that she spent in Burma she found Orwell in two ways, she made interesting discoveries about the writer's life in colonial Burma and she also discovered that Orwell's writings were alarmingly applicable to the country of Burma. She points out that some people say that Orwell wrote the history of Burma in three volumes: Burmese Days, Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The book, which is equal parts travelogue, biography, and political exposé, is organized into five main sections: Mandalay, The Delta, Rangoon, Moulmein, and Katha. These are all places where Orwell spent time. Most of them appear in his writings, for example, Burmese Days is set in Katha. Larkin pulls from these writings, dropping quotes throughout the book. At times it is difficult to distinguish the portentous words of Orwell from the political rhetoric of the oppressive Burmese (Myanmarian?) government. I am sure this was intentional.

Finding George Orwell in Burma was extremely interesting. The people and places that Larkin visits are described in vivid detail, and the conversations that she had are enlightening and often humorous. Larkin managed to be informative and entertaining throughout the book.


Nihil Novum said...

I thought this was something like Where's Waldo.

Carlton said...

So did I. I was supremely confused for the first 50 pages.

Christopher said...

I remember a recent episode when Bush used the name Burma in a speech instead of Myanmar and was roundly mocked by liberal blogs and pundits and such.

But Bush is the correct one, or at least the socially conscious one: Myanmar is the name that the ruling junta of the country uses; Burma is the name used by the rebel monks. The politically aware Fifty Booker is advised to use the word Burma.

Carlton said...

Yeah, you are exactly correct. 50 points.

Nihil Novum said...

SPOILER Burma is on page 234, between "of" and the comma in paragraph four SPOILER

Carlton said...

Also, at the end of the book, Emma Larkin realizes that she is a ghost.