Charles's Reviews > Burmese Days

Burmese Days by George Orwell
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M_50x66
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Feb 10, 13

Read from March 18 to 21, 2012

In spite of a few antisemitic remarks(written by Orwell in his 20's- he subsequently changed his mind), this is an excellent novel about the last days of the British Empire in Burma(part of India at the time). It sets out the hypocrisy of the Anglo-Indian burra-sahibs who exploit the resources of the colonies & their inhabitants who are considered subhuman, while spouting tripe about the white man's burden(educating & "raising up"the natives to the allegedly superior level of the whites). The story revolves about the conflict between U Po Kyin-a scheming, devious, abusive, greedy Burmese assistant commissionaire who rose to that rank from humble circumstances, by extortion, deceit, manipulation, calumny over the bodies of his competition & the only decent human being in the novel, an Indian Dr.Veraswami, who is incorruptible & thus considered an obstacle to Kyin's ambitions. Dr.V. has a white friend John Flory, who doesn't have the courage to support his admission into the local British Club, which Dr.V.sees as a defence against Kyin's machinations, now that it is official gov't policy to admit "natives", though the local whites remain obdurately racist. There is a young memsahib from England-Elizabeth-the niece of a local alcoholic merchant who comes to the village when she is orphaned, and becomes surrounded by prospective lonely unmarried white men. She has a on&off relation with Flory who rescues her from a buffalo-but who is very shy about his marriage proposal&the disfiguring birthmark on his cheek, and who has a Burmese mistress whom he chases out to clear the way for Elizabeth, until a new young aristocratic police officer Verall&his horses seduce her&her aunt with visions of social climbing. The aunt tells E. about the mistress, which kills the relationship-until Verall who borrows a lot from merchants but fails to pay-leaves the village surreptitiously. Kyin engineers a campaign of lies about Dr.V.& a "rebellion"by natives which he the claims to put down, in which a Burman is killed by Maxwell a white merchant, who is murdered in retribution, following which several suspects are arrested, leading to a real rebellion which is only put down by Florey, though Kyin claims the honour.
There is a brief period of adulation for Florey, who is usually held in contempt by the other whites for being too"leftist"&too fond of the natives&Dr.V in particular. After Verral's departure, Florey is considered a candidate for E. again, but she rejects him after his mistress creates a scene at Sunday church service(engineered by Kyin)&he kills himself, while Dr.V's sole support for the British club&defence against Kyin disappears. Dr.V.is degraded to an inferior post in an undesirable location. Kyin gets admitted to the club&is covered in honours by the British for his valiant efforts against the rebellion. Eliz. marries McGregor-a local official.
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Petra X I've just read a long essay of Orwell's on anti-semitism and its roots. I downloaded it from somewhere so I can't link it sadly. I'm reading Burmese Days right now, and not hooked (as yet).


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