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Burmese Days

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  19,131 ratings  ·  1,198 reviews
Set in the days of the Empire, with the British ruling in Burma, this book describes corruption and imperial bigotry. Flory, a white timber merchant, befriends Dr Veraswami, a black enthusiast for the Empire, whose downfall can only be prevented by membership at an all-white club.
Kindle Edition, 287 pages
Published (first published October 1st 1934)
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Doug Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Down and Out are very similar except that Aspidistra is "fiction" with an obvious author avatar as the protagonist…moreKeep the Aspidistra Flying and Down and Out are very similar except that Aspidistra is "fiction" with an obvious author avatar as the protagonist (much like Burmese Days, or 1984 , for that matter), whereas D&O is autobiographical. Both stories focus on the physical and psychological struggles of the impoverished. Catalonia is Orwell's (inevitable for his generation) Spanish Civil War Book. It's no For Whom the Bell Tolls, but in it, you see the beginnings of Orwell's disillusionment with 20th century socialism. Of the books you have not read yet, I liked Down & Out the most. The best Orwell of all is not even a book. It is an essay called "Politics and the English Language." If you have not read that yet, you should do so. It will tell you nothing you have not thought of before, but will crystallize those thoughts in an extraordinary way. (less)
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Totally rewritten 19th May 2013.

Set in the days of the Empire, with the British ruling in Burma, this book describes corruption and imperial bigotry. Although this was Orwell's first book and no doubt based in part on his experiences in his first job as a policeman in Burma, his talent is already fully developed, the writing is superb, the characterisations rounded and lively. Another of his stories from this time and location is also a favourite of mine, Shooting an Elephant

Totally rewritten 19th May 2013.

Set in the days of the Empire, with the British ruling in Burma, this book describes corruption and imperial bigotry. Although this was Orwell's first book and no doubt based in part on his experiences in his first job as a policeman in Burma, his talent is already fully developed, the writing is superb, the characterisations rounded and lively. Another of his stories from this time and location is also a favourite of mine,
Shooting an Elephant

Burmese Days is essentially all about a load of unlikeable, vapid people who belong to an extremely boring club where nothing happens except occasional arguments and a lot of drinking. Now why would anyone want to be a member of a club like that? Because it is a colonial society where the whites run everything and the native people, no matter what their status in the local community, have no overt power and can't even get into a club full of stupid men whose only attribute is that they are white, the ruling class. But if they could get in, then they would have power by association.

The club is told they have to elect one local member. Two men try to get in. One, the honest and straightforward Dr. Veraswami, tries to get his good friend, John Flory, an English timber merchant and the main character, to use his influence on the club members. But Flory, a rather unattractive character who isn't prejudiced but is weak and so won't support the good doctor against the club members he so thoroughly dislikes but, because of race and class, identifies with. The other man, the slimy, sociopathic U Po Kyin,is prepared to wreck Veraswami's character and livelihood and see many lives be ruined and people die just in order to put himself in such a position that he becomes the only possible candidate. Then there is the love interest, another shallow, dislikeable character who can't attract anyone back home so she's been sent husband-shopping into a place where any single white woman is a rare orchid. Even her.

I read the book very tongue in cheek because I also live in a colonial society (but I am either beyond the pale or have the right credentials depending on what side you are on, as I married into a local, black family. A top political family at that). The thing for locals to get into is the yacht club and the local rescue association, neither of which admit locals unless they are top politicians or lawyers and therefore useful or at least, best not offended. But as political power on the island is all in black hands, the snobbery of the yacht club is ignored but the racism noted.

A while back, one of the islands, a private island resort, the sort you can helicopter into, wouldn't let blacks in as guests. The only ones there were the workers, none in managerial or even supervisory positions. A government minister sailed his very impressive 60' yacht there, anchored and dinghied to the beach. The beach staff (black, of course, but from poorer islands, so they didn't recognise him) wouldn't let him stay, told him it was against management policy, didn't believe he owned the yacht and threw him off.

The following week, the island was quite suddenly sold to a company with quite different policies. Result! Now we can all sail up for free on their guest ferry for Sunday lunch (reasonable price, but the price of the drinks...) or a very pleasant, if expensive dinner, hanging out with the millionaires and pretending to be one for the day. Everyone is welcome.

But what happened to the club in India, to the service organisations in the Caribbean? They are all run by posh locals now who apply their own rules for membership. Sometimes they are generous and everyone is welcome, but sometimes they continue the inherited snobbery and racism of the club founders, just from the other side not being any more liberal than their predecessors.

We have the girls who come husband-shopping too. Admin staff and secretaries they are looking for white guys far from home who might go out with but would never marry a local girl and so they are the rare orchids with a two year plan contract in which to snag their man and a modified version of Jane Austen's first line in Pride and Prejudice as their mantra, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a banker or accountant in possession of an obscenely large salary must be in want of a white wife."
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose*.

Read 2012. Review rewritten 2013 and 2015. Maybe next year too.

*(view spoiler)
Henry Avila
Jan 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the 1920's an obscure young Englishman named John Flory, obviously modeled after George Orwell himself, goes to colonial Burma to make his fortune, "The Road to Mandalay" this is not. The writer had been a policeman there also for five years. Flory becomes a timber merchant, in the north of the country and living in Kyauktada (Katha). A small town of 4,000 at the edge of the formidable jungle, but it is the capital of the district with a railroad, hospital, courts and a jail of course and the ...more
Sarah (Presto agitato)
Feb 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: orwell, india
Poor Flory. If only he'd had the good sense to be born into an E.M. Forster novel instead of one by George Orwell, he might have had half a chance.

Burmese Days, Orwell’s second book, draws on his own experiences as a police officer in imperial Burma in the 1920s. The novel describes the experiences of John Flory, an English timber merchant living in a Burmese outpost. Flory feels increasingly estranged from the other Europeans. His only real friend is a Burmese doctor, despite the disapproval of h/>Burmese
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I like Orwell's politics and vision. It is amazing to see how far he has gone in exposing 'untruths' and fighting 'injustices. 'Throughout his life, he remained steadfast in his politics. This makes him an admirable figure. We need writers like him even more today, but I wonder if there is any scope for such a man especially in First World countries where one does not know who Big Brothers and Winstons are; maybe they have merged into one entity, making the world even more intriguing than it eve
There’s a map of the village of Kyautada in my edition of Burmese Days, a map which is based on a drawing done by Orwell himself. My heart skips when I see a map in a book; I know immediately that the geography of the place will be somehow important, and Orwell’s map, with little arrows tagged UP and DOWN alongside the roads, gives an almost three-dimensional idea of the terrain, showing that the village was built on the side of a hill. The few buildings strewn along the slope are tagged with their o ...more
Barry Pierce
Imagine sitting in a small, dark room with George Orwell sitting ten inches away from you shouting the words, "RACISM" and "IMPERIALISM" at you for two hours. That's what it's like reading this novel. Orwell wants to get his message across so strongly that he completely forgets that coherent plots and characters are essential in fiction. However I must say that Burmese Days is written very well (as with all of Orwell's works) and it has a disgustingly pessimistic ending (which is always a major bonus in my literate tast ...more
Jan 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

"The whole body of policemen, military and civil, about a hundred and fifty men in all, had attacked the crowd from the rear, armed only with sticks. They had been utterly engulfed. The crowd was so dense that it was like an enormous swarm of bees seething and rotating. Everywhere one could see policemen wedged helplessly among the hordes of Burmans, struggling furiously but uselessly, and too cramped even to use their sticks. Whole knots of men were tangled Laocoon-like in the folds of unrolle
This always happens to me: I seem to forget how beautiful and almost effortless Orwell’s prose is, only to be stunned by his talent the next time I pick up one of his books. Even when he writes about mundane things, his turn of phrase has an elegance that few others have mastered – and that dry, razor-sharp British sense of humor adds a colorful layer to his narratives. Just a couple of pages into “Burmese Days”, I was both laughing bitterly and sighing in admiration at the wonderful language he ...more

This was my first Orwell 's novel and coincidently it was also Orwell's first novel. It shows.

Burmese Days is essentially about the pettiness and cruelty of colonial society. The novel follows a set of characters but decides, eventually, to focus on John Flory, a timber merchant who is stuck in Burma (Myanmar nowadays) due to his lack of prospects elsewhere. Flory has a love-hate relationship with the land that grants him a living. He hates the white colonial society, with its racism and arroga
Paula Bardell-Hedley
Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pseudonym George Orwell, was a novelist, essayist, journalist and book critic. He was born in British-ruled India in 1903 and served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma from 1922 to 1927. This experience inspired his first novel, Burmese Days, which was first published in the USA in 1934.

Orwell later commented:

"...the landscapes of Burma, which, when I was among them, so appalled me as to assume the quality of nightmare, afterward stayed so hauntingly
MJ Nicholls
George’s fictionalised account of his time in Burma with our brave old lads in the Indian Imperial Police. Flory is our antihero, desperately striving for decency and brotherhood and love in a moral backwater populated by the drunk whore-mongering Old Guard English and corrupt local blackmailers, rapists and tyrants (rolled into one here as U Po Kyin). Caught in the middle are the unfortunate Burmese and Indians trapped in an easily manipulated honour system, ruled over with contempt by the inst ...more
Nov 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sketch-map of Kyauktada
A Note on the Text

--Burmese Days
Sep 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook

I’m on a bit of a George Orwell kick at the moment. Until a few months ago, my experience of Orwell’s writing was limited to the truly brilliant 1984. I’m not sure why I’d not read anything else he wrote, particularly given that I’ve read 1984 multiple times. In any event, a walking tour in Paris which took in the street where Orwell (then just plain Eric Blair) lived and which is evoked in the first scene in Down and Out in Paris and London led me to read that particular work and now I can’t get enough of his
Sam Quixote
George Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days, is a damning look at British Imperialism and the effects of colonialism on both the British and the native populace. John Flory is an expatriate timber merchant who has lived in Burma for 15 years and become thoroughly jaded, spending his days drinking and whoring in a miserable haze. Then Dr Veraswami, his Indian friend, desperately implores Flory for membership to the European Club which he knows is the only thing that would save him from corrupt and ...more
Apr 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this book hard work. Not because of George Orwell's style, which is plain and elegant, but because of the repellant cast of characters. The only decent person was the unfortunate doctor.

At the same time, I don't believe that Orwell was exaggerating the awfulness of the people. The book filled me with shame and disgust at the attitudes and moral bankruptcy of the supposedly superior white men and women.

Given their attitudes towards the people of Burma, it was hardly surprising that they
Paul E. Morph
George Orwell's first novel is a damning indictment of British Imperialism and the bigotry that allowed it to be in the first place. As you might expect, it's very well written and the prose carries you along effortlessly. It's wonderfully descriptive without being overly flowery and you really feel transported to that time.

My main problem with the book is that it isn't damning enough. Perhaps it's my modern perspective or perhaps it's Orwell's often weak-chinned protagonist but I often fel
In George Orwell's essay "Why I Write," he says that his first published work of fiction, Burmese Days (1934), is the kind of book that he aspired to write at the age of sixteen when a passage from Milton's Paradise Lost sent "shivers down [his] backbone." Specifically, Orwell says that he wanted to write "enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their s ...more
Aug 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Second Reading:

Today (2016.12.18) I came across some underlined sentences in this novel as one of his six novels published in "The Complete Novels of George Orwell" (Penguin, 2009) and thought it would be OK to post some of his interestingly witty, quotable quotes out of his seemingly flowing writing. I wonder if he has meant them to be a sort of tip of thought or entertainment, the page numbers are from the mentioned six-novel volume, not from the one showing its front cover on this
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I was left wondering how I decide when a book is worth 5 stars. Good prose, check. Good characterization, check with a quibble. And it is this quibble that has me trying to make up my mind. Flory has a purple birthmark on one side of his face. He knows he is ugly, disfigured - he has known since he was a boy in public school. It seems not to have affected his self-confidence except with women. It becomes supremely important here because, of course, there is a woman. But I began to tire of hearin ...more
Dec 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is extraordinary that I haven’t read Burmese Days before. I owe my thirst for colonial novels an apology. However, better later than never to bump into a classic. Orwell’s book flashes qualities of Bates in descriptions of Burman climate, wildlife and living circumstances, plus adds highly enjoyable critical view of British colonial society and politics of the 1920s. The tragic love story naturally is of secondary importance.

” A cool breath of wind blew up the hill. It was one of
Oct 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
A sad, fierce and ambitious novel about the emptiness and loneliness of the waning days of the British Empire. It shows the ugliness and corruption of British class-based social structure, cultural bigotry and the harsh individual fantasies that are needed to keep the whole system afloat. It shows the future potential of Orwell, but lacks the restrained grace of his later novels. There are, however, definite glitters and shadows of both E.M. Forster and Joseph Conrad throughout. It is worth the read for thos ...more
Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set in colonoial Burma, Burmese Days, is a wonderful portrait, and scathing criticism of the English Empire. Orwell uses the character of Flory, an Englishman trapped in the lonely life of an exile in Burma, to voice his own criticism of English colonialism. Orwell's ideas seem remarkably modern considering that this was written earlyish in the twentieth century. A thoroughly engaging read and one that will open the reader's eyes at the same time. I wonder how this was received at the time of pu ...more
Dec 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's Orwell.
It's fantastic.
What more is there to say?
Dec 16, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
I tend to hold back a bit when it comes to reviewing books chalked up as ‘classics’ since behind every classic book is a classic author with an inevitable legion of fans convinced every word they penned was solid gold. When it comes to George Orwell, my brother is one of these people and was therefore delighted to lend me his copy of Burmese Days, assuring me how good it is. I’ve read a touch of Orwell before - his most famous works, 1984 and Animal Farm - and been impressed with the ideas but g ...more
Orwell lived for several years in Burma as a minor police official in the fast-dying Raj. "Shooting the Elephant" is the more famous short story of the absurd to come from this period. But his novel "Burmese Days" may have a more clever twist: it's the photographic negative of Jane Austin's "Emma". After a slow start focusing on an intelligent Orwell stand-in who is a fish-out-of-water in the "play, play up the game" of the white man's world, a woman of marriageable age suddenly appears. Though ...more
36th book for 2019.

This first fiction I have read by Orwell—and the first he wrote—leaves me disappointed; informed by Orwell's time in the Burmese military police, it paints a vivid picture of a rotten, racist imperial Britain dominating through sheer might over the local people, but while Orwell's writing is as precise and crisp as ever, much of its enjoyment is lost as the story swerves every more completely into the melodramatic.

Sep 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Grace Tjan
Orwell's scathing denunciation of British colonialism won't win awards for subtlety, but still a powerful, unsparing account of colonial characters and their tragic foibles. The humor is of a dark variety, and as the story progresses, it feels like an agonizingly slow train wreck making its way through the fetid jungles of Burma. Virtually all the characters are unlikable --- perhaps some depth is sacrificed in the interest of illustrating the excesses of the system and the people who run it --- ...more
This is not a pleasant book to read. I found the characters generally unpleasant and the story extraordinarily depressing. At the same time Orwell pulled no punches in the lacerating portralts of the "civilised" white bureaucracy.
Orwell gives the lie to the patriarchal colonial attitude we find in Kipling's dreadful poem: "Take Up the white man's burden". However noble the poet's personal beliefs were in that piece, and I don't doubt but that they were genuine, the reality was far more corrupt.
Dec 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, orwell
I was going to mark it as 3 stars because I didn't like the ending but I really enjoyed reading this book so I changed my mind. As a person who spent her teen years in a former British colony, albeit in the 90s, I could identify with a lot that the book talked about. It still shocked me how racist the Europeans were to the local Burmese and also how they lived in a different culture and never really appreciated that culture, no matter how long they had lived there.
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Goodreads Librari...: Please add page number 5 10 Sep 27, 2019 04:41PM  
Guardian Newspape...: Dec 2017 - Burmese Days 13 23 Oct 09, 2018 11:13AM  
Burmese Days Glossary 18 141 Apr 19, 2018 03:42AM  
Around the Year i...: Burmese Days, by George Orwell 1 15 Jan 20, 2018 02:58PM  

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Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist. His work is marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language, and a belief in democratic socialism.

In addition to his literary career Orwell served as a police officer with the Indian Imperial P
“To talk, simply to talk! It sounds so little, and how much it is! When you have existed to the brink of middle age in bitter loneliness, among people to whom your true opinion on every subject on earth is blasphemy, the need to talk is the greatest of all needs.” 32 likes
“Beauty is meaningless until it is shared.” 25 likes
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