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Finding George Orwell in Burma

Finding George Orwell in Burma

Written by Emma Larkin

Narrated by Emily Durante


Finding George Orwell in Burma

Written by Emma Larkin

Narrated by Emily Durante

ratings:
4/5 (15 ratings)
Length:
8 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jun 7, 2010
ISBN:
9781400187478
Format:
Audiobook

Description

Over the years the American writer Emma Larkin has spent traveling in Burma, she has come to know all too well the many ways this police state can be described as "Orwellian." The life of the mind exists in a state of siege in Burma, and it long has. The connection between George Orwell and Burma is not simply metaphorical, of course; Orwell's mother was born in Burma, and he was shaped by his experiences there as a young man working for the British Imperial Police. Both his first novel, Burmese Days, and the novel he left unfinished upon his death were set in Burma. And then there is the place of Orwell's work in Burma today: Larkin found it a commonplace observation in Burma that Orwell did not write one book about the country but three-the other two being Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. When Larkin quietly asked one Burmeseman if he knew the work of George Orwell, he stared blankly for a moment and then said, "Ah, you mean the prophet."



Finding George Orwell in Burma is the story of the year Larkin spent traveling across this shuttered police state using the life and work of Orwell as her guide. Traveling from Mandalay and Rangoon to poor delta backwaters and up to the old hill-station towns in the mountains of Burma's far north, Larkin visits the places Orwell worked and lived and the places his books live still. She brings to vivid life a country and a people cut off from the rest of the world, and from one another, by the ruling military junta and its network of spies and informers. Orwell's spoor leads Larkin to strange, ghostly traces of the British colonial presence and to people who have found ways to bolster their minds against the state's all-pervasive propaganda. Orwell's moral clarity, hatred of injustice, and observant gaze serve as the author's compass in a less tangible sense too: they are qualities that also suffuse this, her own powerful reckoning with one of the world's least free countries.
Publisher:
Released:
Jun 7, 2010
ISBN:
9781400187478
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

Emma Larkin is the pseudonym for an American journalist who was born and raised in Asia, studied the Burmese language at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and covers Asia widely in her journalism from her base in Bangkok.  She has been visiting Burma for close to ten years.


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What people think about Finding George Orwell in Burma

4.2
15 ratings / 15 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    Interesting and nicely done. Enjoyed the chapter-by-chapter approach as to Orwell's time in Burma. The material dealing with the time of Orwell's stay was the most interesting.
  • (5/5)
    What a wonderful find! I only wish I had read Burmese Days and Larkin's trek through Burma following in the footsteps of Orwell's five year stint there BEFORE attending the lecture series on this country at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. It would have helped me tremendously, since I had no real "connection" to this place, its people or its history. Larkin sets upon her journey from Mandalay, moving from town to town in the pattern writer George Orwell took during his youth as an imperial police stationed in Burma. She explores his possible experiences, wonders about what made him suddenly leave after five years, and ponders how this critical man of words--a man noted for his focus on the underdog, the trodden upon, the disenfranchised--came to think the way he did.Ever cautious and aware of her surroundings, Larkin provides the reader with a succinct taste of the overwhelming and all-encompassing nature of a totalitarian state, and how individuals fight to maintain dignity and a sense of freedom within the confines of severe censorship, ever-changing laws and rules, and threat of torture, imprisonment or death.Although much has recently changed in Burma during the past year or so, there seems to remain a looming cloud of possible return to the despotic, militaristic state. And as uprisings of intolerance commence (Buddhists and Muslims), it makes one wonder whether the current government factions will succumb to "business as usual" policies and controls to re-establish the "peace" that is tyranny.
  • (4/5)
    This book is just so unique, filled with interesting facts and summations, it tells the story of a journalist's efforts to retrace the footprints that George Orwell left when he spent five years in service there in the 1920s. Emma Larkin gives us more than a travelogue; she gives us an inside look into the repercussions of colonialism and makes us look at the body of Orwell's work with new eyes, wondering if, in fact, Orwell did write a trilogy (unintentionally) that tells the story of Burma. As she journeys through the country, she gives us an inside look into the spirit of a people that have been repressed but not completely silenced, who have been beaten but not broken. It is a familiar story, but it is freshly and innovatively told. It also shows us clearly why Burma should never be referred to as Myanmar."...the regime claimed that the changes were a long-overdue move to discard these colonial tags. But there was a deeper-rooted motive. The generals were rewriting history. When a place is renamed, the old name disappears from maps and, eventually, from human memory. If that is possible, then perhaps the memory of past events can also be erased. By renaming cities, towns and streets, the regime seized control of the very space within which people lived; home and business addresses had to be rewritten and relearned. And, when the regime changed the name of the country, maps and encyclopedias all over the world had to be corrected. The country known as Burma was erased and replaced with a new one: Myanmar." As Larkin retraces Orwell's steps from his time spent in Burma, she provides insights into how his time there shaped his views and therefore his writing. Her thoughts and analogies are shared side by side with direct quotes from his work and also with explanations of the stories that he told, making it possible for someone who has not read any of Orwell's work to appreciate the points that she is making. "Orwell had based Animal Farm on the Russian Revolution of 1917 and Stalin's fearsome drive to collectivize the Soviet Union's farmland, resulting in the death of millions of peasants. I preferred to read it as the second part of Orwell's unintentional trilogy on Burmese history....When I discussed Animal Farm with my Orwell Book Club in Mandalay, Tui Lin, the jovial retired teacher, did most of the talking. He had, as he liked to say, lived through a real-life version of Animal Farm. Tui Lin refers to the years under Ne Win as 'the time of the green spectacles'. To look at something through green spectacles, he explained, is to look at a thing that is bad and be forced to think that it is good. The phrase has a curious history. The battles and bombs of the Second World War devastated Burma's paddy fields and plantations, and by the time the Japanese army eventually occupied the country farmers found it hard to grow any edible produce. Even the farm animals and pack-horses refused to eat the parched grain, because of its unhealthy-looking white colour. The Japanese, fearful that the donkeys they needed to transport munitions in the mountainous terrain of Upper Burma would starve, came up with an ingenious solution. They fashioned spectacles out of green-tinted glass and wire and hooked them around the donkeys' ears. 'The donkeys saw that the grain was green and happily ate it,' explained Tui Lin. 'that's what we had to do during our years in Burma's Animal Farm. The entire nation was forced to wear green spectacles just like those donkeys.'"Larkin's journey provides us with not only a history of Orwell, but also a history of Burma, and when you have finished, you will never look at either one the same way again. "The few snippets of autobiography that Orwell left behind indicate that his time in Burma was a major turning point in his life, marking his transformation from a snobbish public-school boy to a writer with a social conscience who would seek out the underdogs of society and try to tell their stories."
  • (4/5)
    PLEASE NOTE: This is the (original!) English/Commonwealth title for the book catalogued elsewhere under it's American title: [Finding George Orwell in Burma].Somehow, I'm still not terribly interested in reading Orwell. Well, maybe a couple of novels, but not Burmese Days. Still, was really impressed by this book: Larkin has guts! Though you can only tell by inference: she doesn't brag at all. It was a good introduction to Burmese history, and a good summary of the situation up to 2004. I wonder what else she's written...?
  • (5/5)
    Read 2011. Charming account of travels in modern Burma, re-tracing the time there of George Orwell, serving as a colonial (empire) policeman.
  • (5/5)
    Travelogue, biography,literary criticism, history, and politics - this book is all of those.As Larkin followed the footsteps of Orwell in Burma she delves into the lives of the people, the Burmese government; actually anything that affects the lives of the people. This aspect of her writing must remain covert, however, and most of the brave people who spoke openly to her must remain anonymous. Many only speak in whispers or hints.I loved this book! I learned so much about the country of Burma, its politics and its people. It didn't take me long to fall in love with the Burmese people. Most of those whose encounters Larkin recorded in the book appear to be intelligent, brave, and gentle.
  • (4/5)
    Part travelogue, part political commentary; this book retraces George Orwell's formative years in Burma, trying to place his development as a writer and political opinionmaker in the context of the places he must have stayed at in Burma. The result is a tragic portrait of a country let down both by its colonial masters past and its present dictatorial rulers. It remains to be seen if the relentlessly pessimistic view of Burma will be justified by Burma's current thaw.
  • (4/5)
    A long time ago, in my high school English class, we were assigned Orwell's Burmese Days. I didn't enjoy it at that time because I was a young, unfocused rebellious snit. Many years later, I read that old copy and enjoyed it. Last year, my ol' high school English teacher gave me a copy of Finding George Orwell in Burma. Larkin writes a very compelling book, and I like how the book relates directly to Orwell, his own experiences in Burma, as well as certain passages from Burmese Days.However, I think if a reader wasn't acquainted with Burmese Days, it might not hold their interest.
  • (5/5)
    Journalist and Orwell expert Emma Larkin goes to Burma (now known as Myanmar) to learn about George Orwell's brief stint as a British colonial policeman. Although the book considers how Orwell's police career influenced the writing of 1984, it's really about the amazing resiliency and spirit of Burmese people living under one of the world's most brutal and oppressive governments. Every word is perfectly chosen and every person, building and jungle Larkin visits emerges vividly from the pages. This is one book I'm not selling back to the used book store.
  • (4/5)
    This is interesting in its look at how Orwell's experiences in Burma shaped his thought. The "travel" part of the book is less compelling, probably because so few people could speak freely to the author. Orwell predicted that.
  • (4/5)
    Excellent read, highly recomend to those including this writer whose ignorance of Burma(Myanmar) is in need of attention.
  • (4/5)
    Love books that give me history, biography and politics in the context of travel.
  • (2/5)
    In this book, the author tells about the historical and political situation of Burma through the lens of George Orwell and his novels. It's an interesting premise, since Orwell spent a lot of time in Burma, but it just didn't really pan out. At the beginning I was really into the book, I even went to the library and checked out a few of Orwell's novels, planning to read them concurrently with this book. I quickly learned that I'm not all that interested in Orwell. I just got bored when reading parts about him and his novels. I found the parts that were more purely about Burma to be really interesting, but it was all so scattered that the interest just didn't last. Parts of the book also read too much like travel literature, with drawn out descriptions of quaint tea shops and local customs.

    If you are an Orwell fan, this could be a good read. I was just looking for more about Burma. That seems to be my problem with all non-fiction books recently, the wrong expectations. I guess I'll need to work on that.
  • (5/5)
    Emma Larkin first went to Burma in 1995 in search of George Orwell. Not just a literary detective, Larkin writes about totalitarianism in Burma with an insight appropriate to an Orwell scholar. The analogy of three of Orwell's novels with the history of Burma is uncannily prophetic: Burmese Days tells of the country under British rule; in Animal Farm the pigs take over the running of the farm just as the military took over the running of Burma; and 1984 describes the current tyrannical regime. Although Larkin writes extensively about Burma and its people, she does not lose focus of the main topic, that of Orwell in Burma. The result is excellent.For anyone interested in Orwell and his life this is essential reading. That it is fascinating and well-written is a bonus. Larkin accepts no credit for the bravery required in such an undertaking, but reflects all respect and admiration on the gentle Burmese people.Like Larkin, I will reject the name Myanmar, a name made up by the current military oppressors.
  • (4/5)
    Over the years the American writer Emma Larkin has spent traveling in Burma, also known as Myanmar, she's come to know all too well the many ways this brutal police state can be described as "Orwellian." The life of the mind exists in a state of siege in Burma, and it long has. But Burma's connection to George Orwell is not merely metaphorical; it is much deeper and more real. Orwell's mother was born in Burma, at the height of the British raj, and Orwell was fundamentally shaped by his experiences in Burma as a young man working for the British Imperial Police. When Orwell died, the novel-in-progress on his desk was set in Burma. It is the place George Orwell's work holds in Burma today, however, that most struck Emma Larkin. She was frequently told by Burmese acquaintances that Orwell did not write one book about their country - his first novel, Burmese Days - but in fact he wrote three, the "trilogy" that included Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. When Larkin quietly asked one Burmese intellectual if he knew the work of George Orwell, he stared blankly for a moment and then said, "Ah, you mean the prophet!"