I wasn't prepared to like this book. I teach Animal Farm, and occasionally teach 1984. I don't always teach Animal Farm with precisely the historical allegory that I was taught, because I think my students can understand bullies, violence, passive aggressiveness, and when rule making goes horribly awry, even if they don't always understand it in a historical context. Reading Finding George Orwell in Burma validated how I teach Animal Farm, because it is so much more than just one allegory.
In Burma, Animal Farm and 1984 are banned. George Orwell is referred to as a prophet. Three books; Burmese Days, Animal Farm, and 1984 are either about Burma directly (The first) or hypothesized what would happen under the militaristic Burmese government (The second and third). The more the story unfolded, and Emma Larkin went searching for details about George Orwell's time in Burma, the more the story drifted into this weird magical reality. It never got there, the book is non-fiction, but the writing took on that quality.
It is hard as someone who grew up in America, who doesn't read a lot of non-fiction, who worries about things so close to herself and not outside the world to read this book and not try to make it into magical realism. I don't deny my own ignorance in these matters, in fact, I can't think of enough unflattering terms to describe my cluelessness. Trying to put this book into context, the way we do when we read, was a struggle. The words, the language, it was familiar to me in terms of fantasy novels.
How can that much violence, that much conspiracy, that much horror exist in the world and have people surviving and thriving in so many ways? How does one help to remediate what goes on there, or focus on what goes on here, or do anything? Do I take this book at face value, let it hold in my brain and move on? Should I continue to pursue what was happening? It left me in knots and I want to do something with all the knowledge that I gained, all the stories told. More than just find George Orwell in Burma.
This book was amazing, and unlike most that I read. I know this isn't much of a review, more of a reaction, but it's the best way to document my thoughts around the book. I'm grateful that my book club picked this.