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Burmese Days

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George Orwell's first novel, inspired by his own experiences in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, Burmese Days includes a new introduction by Emma Larkin in Penguin Modern Classics. Based on his experiences as a policeman in Burma, George Orwell's first novel presents a devastating picture of British colonial rule. It describes corruption and imperial bigotry in a society where, 'after all, natives were natives - interesting, no doubt, but finally ... an inferior people'. When Flory, a white timber merchant, befriends Indian Dr Veraswami, he defies this orthodoxy. The doctor is in danger: U Po Kyin, a corrupt magistrate, is plotting his downfall. The only thing that can save him is membership of the all-white Club, and Flory can help. Flory's life is changed further by the arrival of beautiful Elizabeth Lackersteen from Paris, who offers an escape from loneliness and the 'lie' of colonial life.

300 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1934

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About the author

George Orwell

940 books40.5k followers
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 Police in Burma from 1922-1927 and fought with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1937. Orwell was severely wounded when he was shot through his throat. Later the organization that he had joined when he joined the Republican cause, The Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), was painted by the pro-Soviet Communists as a Trotskyist organization (Trotsky was Joseph Stalin's enemy) and disbanded. Orwell and his wife were accused of "rabid Trotskyism" and tried in absentia in Barcelona, along with other leaders of the POUM, in 1938. However by then they had escaped from Spain and returned to England.

Between 1941 and 1943, Orwell worked on propaganda for the BBC. In 1943, he became literary editor of the Tribune, a weekly left-wing magazine. He was a prolific polemical journalist, article writer, literary critic, reviewer, poet, and writer of fiction, and, considered perhaps the twentieth century's best chronicler of English culture.

Orwell is best known for the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949) and the satirical novella Animal Farm (1945) — they have together sold more copies than any two books by any other twentieth-century author. His 1938 book Homage to Catalonia, an account of his experiences as a volunteer on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, together with numerous essays on politics, literature, language, and culture, have been widely acclaimed.

Orwell's influence on contemporary culture, popular and political, continues decades after his death. Several of his neologisms, along with the term "Orwellian" — now a byword for any oppressive or manipulative social phenomenon opposed to a free society — have entered the vernacular.

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Profile Image for Petra X played the long game - and won.
2,383 reviews33.9k followers
June 22, 2015
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.

Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,568 reviews55.6k followers
May 23, 2022
Burmese Days, George Orwell

Burmese Days is a novel by British writer George Orwell. It was first published in the United Kingdom in 1934. It is a tale from the waning days of British colonialism, when Burma was ruled from Delhi as a part of British India.

Burmese Days is set in 1920's imperial Burma, in the fictional district of Kyauktada, based on Kathar (formerly spelled Katha), a town where Orwell served. Like the fictional town, it is the head of a branch railway line above Mandalay on the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River.

As the story opens, U Po Kyin, a corrupt Burmese magistrate, is planning to destroy the reputation of the Indian, Dr Veraswami. The doctor hopes for help from his friend John Flory who, as a pukka sahib (European white man), has higher prestige.

Dr Veraswami also desires election to the town's European Club, of which Flory is a member, expecting that good standing among the Europeans will protect him from U Po Kyin's intrigues.

U Po Kyin begins a campaign to persuade the Europeans that the doctor holds anti-British opinions in the belief that anonymous letters with false stories about the doctor "will work wonders". He even sends a threatening letter to Flory. ...

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه می سال1985میلادی

عنوان: روزهای برمه؛ نویسنده: جورج (جرج) اورول؛ مترجم: مرتضی مدنی نژاد؛ تهران، نشر آوا، سال1363، در416ص؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده20م

عنوان: روزهای برمه؛ نویسنده: جورج (جرج) اورول؛ مترجم: پروین قائمی؛ تهران، نشر کتاب آفرین، سال1363، در367ص؛

عنوان: روزهای برمه؛ مترجم: زهره روشنفکر؛ تهران، نشر مجید، سال1389، شابک9789644531088؛ در367ص؛ چاپ سوم سال1392؛ چا�� چهارم سال1393؛

عنوان: روزهای برمه؛ مترجم: آوینا ترنم؛ تهران، نشر ماهابه، سال1389، شابک9789644531088؛ در442ص؛

عنوان: روزهای برمه؛ مترجم: فرزانه پورفرزین؛ تبریز، نشر اختر، سال1393، شابک9789645174543؛ در416ص؛

روزهای برمه، همانند نوشته‌ های دیگر «جورج اورول»، یک داستان انتقادی است؛ خوانشگرانی که با آثار ایشان آشنایی دارند، و کتابهای ایشان، همچون «قلعه(مزرعه) حیوانات»؛ و یا «1984» را خوانده‌ اند، به‌ سبک و سیاق قلم شگفتی برانگیز ایشان آ‌شنا هستند؛

اورول؛ با نام اصلی «اریک بلر»، در «هند» به ‌دنیا آمده، و پدرش نیز، یک شغل اداری در «بنگال» داشته، ایشان در این کتاب شیوه ی اداره ی امپراتوری «بریتانیا»، در کشورهای مستعمره‌ را می‌نمایاند، و از نحوه ی اداره ی آن، انتقاد می‌کند؛

در این کتاب شاید ایشان تجربیات خودشان را، در کشورهای مستعمره ی «انگلستان»، به ‌رشته ی نگارش درآورده اند؛ «اورول» اندیشه ‌های نقادانه ‌اش را، از دید قهرمان داستانش، به ‌زبان می‌آورد؛ شخصیت اصلی این داستان، که خود یک تبعه ی «انگلیس» است، از اوضاعی که بر مردمان کشور «برمه» می‌گذرد، به ‌شدت بیزار است، و در هر فرصتی از آن انتقاد می‌کند؛ در حالیکه خود مردم «برمه»، به آن زندگی عادت کرده‌ اند، شخصیت اصلی رمان نسبت به وضعیت، ابراز انزجار می‌کنند؛ اما او آدمی ترسو است، و نمی‌تواند باورهای خویش را آشکارا نشان دهد؛ زیرا می‌داند که تمام اروپاییهای ساکن «برمه»، از شیوه ی حکومت بر مردمان «برمه» راضی، و حتی خواهان وارد آوردن فشار بیشتر بر آنها هستند؛ «اورول» ترس و بزدلی قهرمان داستانش را، با یک لکه ی مادرزادی روی صورتش، می‌نمایاند، که همیشه باعث شرمساری اوست، و او سعی دارد آن را از دید همگان پنهان نگه دارد

نقل نمونه متن: («یوپوکین»، رییس دادگاه جانبی بخش «کیائوکتادا»، واقع در قسمت بالای «برمه»، در ایوان خانه اش نشسته بود؛ با آنکه هنوز ساعت هشت ونیم صبح بود؛ اما چون ماه آوریل بود، هوا آنچنان غمگین و ابری بود که نوید ساعتهای کشدار و خفقان آور ظهر را میداد؛ باد با وزشی ضعیف و به طور تصادفی که در نتیجه تضاد با وضعیت جوّی خنک به نظر میرسید، نهال نخلهای خرمایی را که تازه خیس و از کنار بام آویزان شده بود، حرکت میداد؛ پشت نهالهای خرما، تنه ی خمیده و خاک آلود یک نخل، به چشم میآمد و بعداز آن، یک آسمان تمام آبی و آتشین بود؛ چند کرکس در بالاترین نقطه ی آسمان که چشم از دیدنش حیران میماند، در حالیکه بی هیچ تکانی به بالهایشان چرخ میزدند در حال پرواز بودند

یوپوکین همچون یک بت «چینی» بزرگ بی آنکه پلک بزند، به تابش مستقیم خورشید، چشم دوخته بود؛ او مردی پنجاه ساله و آنقدر چاق بود، که سالها میشد بی کمک دیگران، از روی صندلی اش هرگزی بلند نشده بود؛ اما با این وجود، در چاقی او یک نوع تناسب، و زیبایی در اندامش نمایان بود؛ چون وقتی مردم برمه چاق میشوند، مثل سفیدپوستان پشتشان خم نمیشود، و شکم نمیآورند؛ بلکه همچون میوه ای رسیده، متورم و به طور یکنواختی چاق میشوند. صورت یوپوکین، پهن و زرد بود، و هیچ چین و چروکی نداشت، و چشمهایش هم سیاه بود؛ همیشه پابرهنه و پاهایش تُپُل و چاق بود، و کف پایش هم بسیار گود بود، و همه ی انگشتهای پایش هم به یک اندازه، و عین موهای سرش، که همیشه آنها را از ته میتراشید بود؛ اغلب، یک لباس بومی که عبارت بود از یک لُنگ اراکان به رنگ روشن، که راه راهایی به رنگهای سبز و سرخ داشت، و اهالی برمه آن را، در غیر زمان رسمی میپوشیدند، به تن میکرد؛ او از درون یک جعبه لاک و الکل زده ای که روی میز بود، ساقه سانی برداشت، و مشغول جویدنش شد؛ همانطور که مشغول جویدن آن بود، گذشته اش را به یاد میآورد

گذشته اش بسیار درخشان، و همراه با موفقیت بود؛ یوپوکین هرچه زمان کودکی اش، در دهه ی1880میلادی را مرور میکرد، خودش را از نوع بچه های پاپتی ای میدید، که با شکمی متورم، در کنجی ایستاده، و در انتظار ورود پیروزمندانه جوخه های ارتش سربازهای انگلیسی ای که به ماندالی میآمدند، نگاه میکرد؛ او به یاد میآورد که چطور در آن هنگام از عبور ستونهای منظم سربازان غول پیکری که در اثر خوردن گوشت گاو چهره های سرخی داشتند، و کتهای سرخ پوشیده، و تفنگهای بلندی بر دوش گرفته بودند، و صدای هماهنگ و سنگین پوتینهای آنها، ترسیده بود؛ چنانکه بعداز آنکه یکی دو دقیقه آنها را تماشا کرده بود، ترجیح داد تا از آنجا بگریزد؛ او با عقل کودکانه اش، نتیجه گرفته بود که هم میهنانش نمیتوانند در برابر این سربازان غول پیکر، مقاومت کنند؛ بنابراین در همان دوران طفولیت، دلش میخواست در کنار سربازهای انگلیسی بجنگد، و یا همچون انگلی، خودش را به آنها بچسباند.)؛ پایان نقل

نقل نمونه دیگر از متن: (کلاغهای سبز را موقعی که زنده هستند، کسی نمیتواند ببیند؛ آنها در مرتفعترین نقاط درخت، زندگی میکنند، و هرگز به زمین نمیآیند، مگر آنکه بخواهند آب بنوشند؛ موقعی که کسی آنها را با تیر میزند، اگر فورا کشته نشوند، خودشان را به درختی آویزان میکنند، تا بمیرند، و این کار آنقدر طول میکشد، تا شکارچی خسته شود، و برود؛ از اینکه حتی جسدشان، به دست قاتلشان بیفتد، نفرت دارند)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 12/09/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 01/03/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
447 reviews3,218 followers
May 11, 2019
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 Irrawaddy River flowing leisurely by . The seven Europeans who constitute the entire white population there, social center is the club, all the British have one in Burma. A not very impressive or beautiful building, but it is the only place that they think, represents good old England. The foreigners naturally keep away from the Burmese, as much as possible. Still times are changing , the days of the British Raj are numbered, the world moves on. The club members are an anachronism and are too stupid, to realize it. They're living in the past, in the "Glorious Days of the Empire" that doesn't exist anymore. The Europeans mostly get drunk inside and have arguments, smoke a lot of cigarettes with some card playing and reading on the side. And always complaining about the intolerable heat and vilify the natives, as less than human especially Ellis, a bigot to the bone. Except for Flory, who has an Indian friend (causing much criticism , from the other Europeans) his only one, in the wide world, Dr. Veraswami is strangely more pro British than Flory, have loud, vigorous discussions about politics. The good doctor has an enemy, U Po Kyin a very ambitious corrupt magistrate, so fat that he can't get off a chair by himself. Intrigues are his delight in life, the more harm he causes the better his enjoyment, plus he gets more power and rupees . Being the first Burmese in the club, is his goal and nothing will stop him! Poor sensitive Mr.Flory, born with a hideous birth mark on one side of his face, which he tries to hide not very well. John likes the country and the people, the only European who does. A very sad lonely man, the biggest thing he hates is himself for his debauchery, drinking too much, native women he uses, living like the rest of the white slobs, believing himself a coward for not speaking more against British rule. The faithful servant Ko S'la, helps him to bed many times. His mistress Ma Hla May, is always asking for more money, but the dog Flo loves him. Entering the story, the inexperienced Miss Elizabeth Lackersteen, an orphan at 22 years old, no coins in her purse. She needs a place to stay, arriving in town and living with her only relative, the lush of an uncle Mr. Lackersteen and his wife. When not falling down drunk, he likes to lecherously chase the niece around the house. This is Mr.Flory's last chance for salvation, can he overcome his weaknesses, his ugliness, his self hate, to win the love of this young , attractive woman a dozen years his junior and make his life worth living ? But there is a rival Lieutenant Verrall, a military policeman newly posted for a short time in town, there is rebellion in the air. Handsome 25, loves his horses, younger son of a peer thus destitute, paying bills not his way, conceited, looking down at the other Europeans, a real creep and not a heart of gold either, in sight. But with good manners, resulting in countless women falling for him, so does foolish, desperate Elizabeth... Very informative novel that shows the evils of imperialism..
Profile Image for Sarah (Presto agitato).
123 reviews158 followers
October 19, 2015
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 his fellow Englishmen. Flory finds their overt racism repulsive, though his rebellion against it is halfhearted.

Flory deals with his sense of alienation as many of his fellow Europeans do, comforting himself with a Burmese mistress and vast quantities of gin. When the lovely but vapid Elizabeth Lackersteen arrives on the scene, Flory thinks he has found a kindred spirit to rescue him from his isolation. He misreads her utterly, however, resulting in some truly cringe-inducing scenes of courtship. And just in case Flory weren’t inept enough in the love department already, he gets some help when the complicated plotting of a corrupt Burmese magistrate turns him into collateral damage.

Burmese Days is a scathing attack on racism and imperialism that seems in many ways ahead of its time. The novel was published in the United States before it was published in the U.K. because it was thought that it would be more palatable in a country without a direct connection to colonial India and Burma (and where the real-life models for the characters wouldn’t be recognized).

It often feels like much of Orwell’s work, both his novels and essays, served as a lifelong preparation for Nineteen Eighty-Four. This is true even in Burmese Days, with a setting that little resembles Oceania. Still, the theme of isolation and repression of thought is strong:

"It is a stifling, stultifying world in which to live. It is a world in which every word and every thought is censored. In England, it is hard to imagine such an atmosphere. Everyone is free in England; we sell our souls in public and buy them back in private, among our friends. But even friendship can hardly exist when every white man is a cog in the wheels of despotism. Free speech is unthinkable. All other kinds of freedom are permitted. You are free to be a drunkard, an idler, a coward, a backbiter, a fornicator; but you are not free to think for yourself. Your opinion on every subject of any conceivable importance is dictated for you by the pukka sahibs' code . . . it is a corrupting thing to live one's real life in secret. One should live with the stream of life, not against it."

Despite these serious themes, Burmese Days is still an engaging story. Admittedly, most of the characters border on loathsome, painted with Orwell’s extremely dry wit. Hopefully some of them are exaggerated caricatures, but unfortunately many probably aren’t. Flory, though, despite his numerous failings, still has a certain poignant appeal. Though the odds are stacked greatly against him, it’s hard not to hope he can somehow prevail.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
651 reviews826 followers
December 25, 2021
“Envy is a horrible thing. It is unlike all other kinds of suffering in that there is no disguising it, no elevating it into tragedy. It is more than merely painful, it is disgusting.”

Turning Pages: George Orwell and his own Burmese days

Not as polished as some of his later works, George Orwell's Burmese Days still packs a punch. Set during colonial rule in 1920s Burma, Orwell tells the story of John Flory, a British civil civil servant who feels trapped in an oppressive system he is part of. Still, Flory is hoping to secure what he sees as his last chance at happiness. At the same time, racial hostility is on full display as a British-only club contemplates opening up its membership to one Burmese. Burmese Days is raw and powerful and quite frankly depressing, but also engaging. It makes me want to revisit Frantz Fanon's
The Wretched of the Earth to see how Fanon's analysis of how colonialism dehumanizes people matches with how Orwell depicted it in Burma.

“...it is perhaps one's own fault, to see oneself drifting, rotting, in dishonour and horrible futility, and all the while knowing that somewhere within one there is the possibility of a decent human being.”
126 reviews95 followers
November 10, 2018

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 ever has been.

'Burmese Days' shows us the man who is fighting injustice in whatsoever form it presents itself. Here the setting is British Rule in the subcontinent, and the reader sees how they exert power over the natives. One among the English, John Flory, fights the dubious practices of the rulers in everyday matters, For instance, the English men at club oppose an Indian doctor's membership to the club, Flory fights his colleagues.

So one sees two kinds of English men in colonies; the majority that exploits the 'natives' and a minuscule number of English men who defends the rights of the natives. Indeed, a perfect arrangement. I guess until we have people, groups, nations who are in a position to help 'others' we are in a terrible place because such a situation arises out of inequalities in the first place. For instances, in Nordic countries it is not that one rich man is helping 50 others just out pity; such gestures of 'help' are often seen in more primitive societies, where such a helper and his ancestors must have built their riches by exploiting the majority population.

So while one admires people who try to bring injustices down, but very often they are more or less come from the same class. And no matter how honest they are, they are never wholly saintly, their own prejudices and complicity leak in unguarded moments. Flory, a friend of Indian doctor and great champion of equality and so forth, is once seen loathing his orderly who spoke to him in English (Here, we see his snobbery first hand; I am not sure, though, if this was intentional, or could this be Orwell himself, by default, showing his own prejudices). On one level, Flory's claims to righteousness are fundamentally problematic, after all, he works for the British Raj.

The second time I read this novel, I was not looking for how one good man is fighting for the rights of the others (an admirable thing, though, but an ideal situation in human life does not produce them, there is no scope for them). I was actually studying the good man himself. What is it that makes him? How come he fights the system? Are the reasons often given only embedded in goodness? Or is it just a way of exerting power from the other end?

Each time I read about modern day activists, the so-called good guys, I always wonder would they still remain good if whatever they fight vanishes. Would an Indian Brahmin, who claims to fight caste in India, really be at ease in caste-less society? Would someone like Orwell, who fought against colonialism, be glad to love in today's world where England is not what it used to be? Or would he, then, resent 'democracy'? As a reader, I cannot help myself asking these questions.

Or Like many, he would also resent 'democracy' today. It is these questions I cannot help thinking while reading 'Burmese Days.'
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
977 reviews1,093 followers
May 16, 2019
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 used to tell this rather devastating story. I also could hardly put the book down, and growled at anyone who interrupted my reading.

In some ways, “Burmese Days” reminded me of E.M. Forster’s “A Passage to India” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), but harsher, grittier in its description of bigotry and corruption. Just like Forster, Orwell lived in South East Asia and saw how his fellow Englishmen saw the native population, and treated both them and their local resources – and the different ways the Burmese and Indians reacted to this imperialism. Obviously, he hated what he saw. This is not “1984” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) or “Animal Farm” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), but it is nevertheless a scathing social criticism of colonialism and its repercussion – both on the colonists and colonized. Orwell knew that the problems faced by everyone involved in this situation were complex and intricate, and had no easy solutions.

Dr. Veraswami’s only hope of avoiding the persecution of a corrupt magistrate is to be elected as a member of an all-white Club, as this strange power of association would give him enough prestige to stay safe. He has one hope, that his friend John Flory, who loathes the open racism his compatriots spew all day long over drinks, will help him acquire this coveted membership. But Flory doesn’t have the strength of his convictions, and U Po Kyin, the slimy magistrate, will exploit this weakness of character to his own ends.

Orwell never really seems to write likable characters, but he makes his pathetic and despicable ones very layered and well-rounded. Flory’s sense of alienation and despair is perfectly captured; I kept hoping he’d get his shit together, but I didn’t think it was very likely. He feels enormous guilt for being complicit in the exploitation and abuse he witnesses, but can’t bring himself to rebel against it entirely. I wondered how much of himself (or a young version of himself) Orwell poured into this tormented timber merchant, how much of what Flory experiences echoes how Orwell felt during the five years he spent in Burma. He did say that much of the book was simply reporting things he had seen during his stay there, to the point where his publishers were originally worried about libel suits…

Orwell didn’t think this was his most political work, and later decided that he would no longer indulge in what he felt was purple and decorative writing, because the world he lived in was not a peaceful place, which made him feel he had a responsibility to infuse his writing with political purpose. It might not have been the driving inspiration behind “Burmese Days”, but it is nevertheless a beautifully written but heartbreaking and unflinching look at a terrible time and place of our history.

A must-read for Orwell fans.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
766 reviews
January 25, 2015
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 owners’ names. At the bottom of the hill, he’s drawn in the broad expanse of the River Irrawaddy and at the top of the hill, a large shaded area, which he has simply tagged ‘Jungle’. When you begin reading, you know that the story will take place on this rather narrow slope of land between the jungle and the river, and for me, that information spelled danger. The book opens with the hatching of a rather diabolical plot so the suspicion of danger is confirmed and the tone of the story is set from the beginning.

I was slightly disappointed that the descriptions of nature promised by this hillscape between jungle and river were so few but the scattering of houses on the map are far more significant than they look at first. In fact, most of the story takes place in one or other of these houses, or in the little cube marked ‘Club’, its back set to the river, and to which the main characters make their way before breakfast, at noon, and every evening of their Kyautada lives. They sit in their club, as in all such Kipling-haunted little Clubs, whisky to the right of you, Pink’un to the left of you, listening and eagerly agreeing while Colonel Bodger develops his theory that these bloody Nationalists should be boiled in oil. The club, needless to say is exclusively white and the plot of the book revolves around it remaining that way. Or not.

The promising strip of jungle on the upper edge of the map has a role to play in the story, as does the river, but too much of the book is concerned with the sayings and doings of the sahiblog, the little group of agents of the British Empire who gather in the club at Kyautada, and they are a particularly unpleasant group. But thanks to Orwell’s talent as a writer, he somehow manages to squeeze an interesting story out of such unpromising material. If he were alive today, I would love to talk to him about this book and his motivations for writing it. Of course that’s impossible, but the next best thing is to take a look at what he said about this book when he was alive, in Why I Write:

From an early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer...When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words..As for the need to describe things, I knew that already. So it is clear what kind of books I wanted to write, in so far as I could be said to want to write books at that time. I 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 partly used for the sake of their sound. And in fact my first complete novel, Burmese Days, which I wrote when I was thirty but projected much earlier, is rather that kind of book.

But already in Burmese Days, for all his attempts at ‘purple passages’ and ‘arresting similes’, there is a definite leaning towards the type of social criticism that was to become the focus of Orwell’s later writing. The Indian Empire is a despotism - benevolent, no doubt, but still a despotism with theft as its final object...There is a prevalent idea that the men at the ‘outposts of Empire’ are at least able and hardworking. It is a delusion. Outside the Scientific Forces - the Forest Department, the Public Works Department and the like - there is no particular need for a British official in India to do his job competently.. The real work of administration is done mainly by natives. Burmese Days, p. 69

In Why I Write he explains how he came to definitively turn his back on the Burmese Days type novel. In a peaceful age, I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming something of a pamphleteer. First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc.

Fortunately for us, those later life experiences gave Orwell material for some of his finest writing, Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia as well as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four.
I need to read more Orwell.

Profile Image for Daren.
1,266 reviews4,356 followers
September 14, 2020
My second reading of Orwells Burmese Days. I read it originally in 2007, when I picked up a copy in a second hand bookshop / barbershop (I have a feeling it was Mandalay, but I am not sure). I didn't recall much from it, and a middling 3 stars was where it sat when I was backfilling some books read upon joining Goodreads. Having read a few reviews by other readers lately I decided to embark on a rare (for me) re-read.

Set in a small town in Burma (Myanmar now), in the 1920s, while a part of the British Empire, Orwell's first book explores the relationship of the sahib and the native. The few white men in the town regularly frequent the 'club' where natives are not permitted as members, al though they have been instructed by the powers that be, that they must elect one native member.

Flory, who runs a timber extraction operation, is one of the least popular white men, is far too appreciative of the native culture, and is even friends with a native doctor, the anglophile Dr Veraswami. But his is weak willed, and will not support the doctor as a member, for fear of the scorn of his fellow members. U Po Kyin, the other man in a position of power who aches to become a member is a manipulator and plotter, and sets about to undermine Veraswami and also Flory in an attempt to become the only suitable candidate.

As well as this, the niece of another British couple has arrived, and while her uncle is desperate to take advantage of her, her aunt is equally desperate to marry her off. Circumstances send her Flory's way, and he falls hopelessly in love with her, but stumbles through each opportunity and eventually a rival appears.

The book successfully shows the British to be loathsome, full of superiority and racial prejudice. The exception being Flory, who is a weak and for the most unwilling to stand up to his peers. Orwell, born in India, and later having spent five and a half years as a policeman in various parts of Burma, displays a deep understanding of the colonial situation in this novel. With the overtly racist characters it is a jarring read, but then I rather suspect Orwell set out to achieve that. It certainly captures a cynical and negative view of colonialism.

With the re-read it gains a star - easily 4 star, but perhaps lacking a little rounding out of the characters that might have gained 5 stars.
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
531 reviews7,090 followers
October 17, 2014
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 tastes).
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,182 reviews124 followers
November 30, 2022
An indictment of British colonial rule and institutionalized bigotry!

Most lovers of English literature will be aware of George Orwell's 1984 and ANIMAL FARM but, sadly, few book lovers will have even heard of, let alone read, his scathing indictment of colonial British government rule in east Asia, BURMESE DAYS. As Orwell's parents and family were posted to Burma and were obviously participants in, if not supporters of this colonial imperialism, it is difficult to imagine how much putting such criticism and biting satire to paper might have cost Orwell on a personal level.

Like Thomas Hardy's THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE, this is an almost unremittingly dark novel with heroes that are at best deeply flawed. Orwell's haunting and magnificently economical prose, is a gun turret mounted on a 360° swivel that is brought to bear on every character in the novel in turn.

Flory, a white timber merchant with an embarassingly insipid weak personality befriends Veraswami, a local Burmese doctor who, inexplicably, seems to be an avid supporter of the British colonial government. When Veraswami's name is floated as the possible token native member of the British "club", the hostile reaction is immediate and visceral. Flory seems overwhelmed and is simply unable to muster the courage necessary to stand up to the demands of his peers who insist on maintaining an institutionalized prejudice against the local "niggers". Veraswami comes under attack on a second front from U Po Kyin, the utterly corrupt Burmese magistrate who covets the European patronage to enhance his own wealth and prestige. Beautiful Elizabeth Lackersteen - now there's a character! If this novel were placed in the US, she would have been a "flapper"! Today she would simply be written off as a vapid airhead! But, in BURMESE DAYS, she represents the worst of decadent imperial decline.

BURMESE DAYS is not easy or comfortable reading. I felt at times queasy, often appalled, frequently saddened and even embarrassed that bigotry, hatred and corruption at this level is clearly a part of my heritage. Sadly, we are not yet able to claim we have grown completely past this type of behaviour but perhaps it is to our credit that people like Orwell had the courage to commit this to paper solely for the purpose of making us aware of our own shortcomings and that we are to this day profoundly uncomfortable when we read it!

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for B0nnie.
136 reviews49 followers
February 24, 2012

"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 unrolled pagris." Burmese Days 1934

"It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages." A Hanging 1931

"With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorm, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts." Shooting an Elephant 1936

It is interesting to note that the main distinction between these two great essays by Orwell, Shooting an Elephant and A Hanging, and his novel, Burmese Days, is length. All have plot, characters, vivid descriptions, the protagonist conveying his ideas and thoughts through the telling of a story. Where fiction becomes fact is not clearly defined. If the protest "but Flory is a character" has merit, one could say the same of the speaker in the essays. Did these events really happen? Was there a dog, does Orwell really remember exactly what was said? For that matter, did he ever shoot an elephant or see a hanging? There is some doubt. However there is no doubt of the truth of what is conveyed, even if one can pick apart each and every incident recounted. Fiction and soi-disant nonfiction both have their lies and truths, but which is which is not always apparent.

To belabour the point:

"Art is a lie I use to tell the truth." Picasso
"The truth is more important than the facts." Frank Lloyd Wright
"Is there anything truer than truth? Yes, Legend." Kazantzakis
"These things never were, but always are." Sallust

Burmese Days, as is often noted, is influenced by Of Human Bondage, Lord Jim and Passage to India. But combined with Orwell’s experience in Burma, and his sharp perceptions, it is a satire with beauty, heartbreak, cruelty and madness.

John Flory, the protagonist, had been in Burma fifteen years. Orwell was there for five. The exoticness of Burma had captivated Orwell, and it is rendered quite wonderfully in this his first novel.
"The sun circled low in the sky, and the nights and early mornings were bitterly cold, with white mists that poured through the valleys like the steam of enormous kettles."

"There was no lawn, but instead a shrubbery of native trees and bushes--gold mohur trees like vast umbrellas of blood-red bloom, frangipanis with creamy, stalkless flowers, purple bougainvillea, scarlet hibiscus and the pink Chinese rose, bilious-green crotons, feathery fronds of tamarind. The clash of colours hurt one's eyes in the glare. A nearly naked mali, watering-can in hand, was moving in the jungle of flowers like some large nectar-sucking bird."

"Unblinking, rather like a great porcelain idol, U Po Kyin gazed out into the fierce sunlight. He was a man of fifty, so fat that for years he had not risen from his chair without help, and yet shapely and even beautiful in his grossness; for the Burmese do not sag and bulge like white men, but grow fat symmetrically, like fruits swelling. His face was vast, yellow and quite unwrinkled, and his eyes were tawny.

His feet--squat, high-arched feet with the toes all the same length--were bare, and so was his cropped head, and he wore one of those vivid Arakanese longyis with green and magenta checks which the Burmese wear on informal occasions. He was chewing betel from a lacquered box on the table, and thinking about his past life."

Orwell's own assessment: "The descriptions of scenery aren't bad, only of course that is what the average reader skips."

Don’t skip them if you want to be in Burma with Orwell. Although it does get a bit out of hand occasionally, I would not call it *purple prose*. And there are so many scenes that are brilliantly handled, and often with a dash of dry wit and subtle irony.

Orwell is Flory, almost as much as he is the shooter in the essay. He was part of the imperialist empire, yet an outsider too. He could not play the role of the pukka sahib. He was too admiring of the natives, the land, the language, the culture – and he hated the role of exploiter, hating how his fellow Englishmen were so intolerant and chauvinistic - these same ideas are found in Shooting an Elephant and A Hanging.

Burmese Days is very visual indeed and I am surprised it has never been filmed.

In 1936, Orwell wrote to his agent, "I don’t think personally the idea of dramatising 'Burmese Days' is much good, but it might be worth while getting an expert opinion."

That expert might be Ralph Fiennes, who is looking at doing Burmese Days, based on an adaptation by John Henry Butterworth. Apparently he wants to be John Flory, and he’s sent the script to Roger Michell director of Notting Hill. Hmm.

Luckily Fiennes has had some practise at playing the ugly guy.

"The first thing that one noticed in Flory was a hideous birthmark stretching in a ragged crescent down his left cheek, from the eye to the corner of the mouth. Seen from the left side his face had a battered, woebegone look, as though the birthmark had been a bruise--for it was a dark blue in colour. He was quite aware of its hideousness."

Fiennes as Flory

"New-tick Flory does look rum, Got a face like a monkey's bum."

"But Flory had lived down 'Monkey-bum' in time. He was a liar, and a good footballer, the two things absolutely necessary for success at school."

Naturally Orwell is as droll as ever here.

It’ll be amusing to see Fiennes made-up as Flory - and saying words like pyinkado, frangipani, longyi, thakin, tuktoo, pwe, sahiblog, dacoity, and thathanabaing. And not smiling.
Profile Image for W.
1,185 reviews4 followers
September 2, 2020
George Orwell spent five years in Burma (now Myanmar) as an imperial policeman. He eventually became disillusioned enough by his experiences to resign from his job. The decision cost him dearly,he would fall on hard times after that.

This book has parallels with E.M.Forster's A Passage to India and seems to be influenced by it. Both books take a look at racial attitudes,an Englisman's friendship with an Indian doctor and feature an English girl who goes off to the colonies to get married and breaks it off.

I first encountered George Orwell with an essay from this book,Shooting an Elephant,back in high school. It lacked context,however.

Years later,I read the whole thing. It is a pessimistic book,it does not have a happy ending. It wasn't an easy book to get published.
It was rejected several times for fear of controversy that it was based on real people,which it seems that it was.

Orwell denounces imperial bigotry,not an easy thing to do in those days. It is not a page turning story. Its significance lies in the boldness of its themes.

It describes the dark side of the British Raj.In the imperial view,"natives were natives,interesting no doubt...but finally an inferior people".
Profile Image for Daniela.
167 reviews91 followers
March 27, 2018

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 arrogance, and he clearly admires the Burmese people and their ways. This admiration, however, is constantly stiffled because he, a white man, could never openly admire the "natives" without causing some major scandal. What is absurd is that this white society in which the so-called scandal would be given any attention is composed of less than 10 white people. As Flory himself admits there would be no serious consequence for him if he were to defy the unspoken and unwritten rules of colonial sociability. But he is a coward, and he hates conflict. He persists in his feebleness.

It is hard to simpathize with any of the characters. They are all either detestable or pathetic or ridiculous. The ending is predictably unhappy.

Burmese Days is well written because Orwell is incapable of bad writing. Still, it lacks proper structure and character development. Above all, it lacks subtlety. Everything is very much in your face in a way that grows tiring even for such a short novel. Still, and perhaps paradoxically, Orwell's anger - which is clear and palpable - at the utter injustice and absurdity of the reality of the British Empire is the best thing about this book. He takes all the myths about British Imperialism (the "benovelent rule", the "we brought civlization", the "competence of the officials") and destroys them. That I did enjoy.
Profile Image for Quo.
276 reviews
November 30, 2020
It is a surprise to read George Orwell's "other books", those well beyond his 2 most famous works. Sometimes, I feel as if Orwell writes as if he is in the mode of an anthropologist, as in The Road to Wigan Pier and at other times someone who has just gone undercover to gather evidence of a crime, as in Burmese Days. Obviously, George Orwell changed a great deal while representing Great Britain in Burma, most unhappy with the role of his government's stance while working in Burma but also, seemingly quite unhappy in his own skin.

There are frailties with this novel and while I did enjoy the context of Orwell's tale set in colonial Burma, it does not seem all that well developed, particularly the ending. I kept wondering what Graham Greene or Somerset Maugham or Rudyard Kipling would have done with this setting & my conclusion is that they would have made the characters rather more complex and the story considerably more memorable. There were, one supposes, colonial types who were more even-tempered, who found the people they were living in the midst of to be marginally interesting, at least not being completely antagonistic toward the Burmese.

Life as a colonial administrator in Burma presents many ups & downs for Flory, the main character in this story & the presence of Elizabeth does seem to change him somewhat. Ultimately however, he seems almost beyond redemption. I have lived in a post-colonial, formerly British & recently independent country and while there was definitely residual evidence of remaining British who continued to feel completely superior to the folks they had governed, there were also many who wished the new country and its people good fortune and enjoyed being in their presence, even if at times rather like a parent cautiously watching a former child come of age. I seemed to sense only extreme condescension & intolerance in Orwell's tale of Burma. Here is just one comment on the Burmese profile, from Elizabeth:
Aren't the Burmese too simply dreadful? Such hideous-shaped heads! Their heads slope up behind like a tom-cats. And look at the way their foreheads slant back-it makes them look so wicked. So coarse looking, like some kind of animal. Do you think anyone could find them attractive? That black skin--I don't know how anyone could bear it!
Flory responds by suggesting that..."one gets used to it after a few years in these countries", also mentioning that in places like Burma a brown skin seems more natural than a white one and that in much of the world pale skin is considered an eccentricity.

I found the character of Dr. Veriswamy captivating and kept thinking that I would not have wished to be a part of a club that barred him from membership. All clubs do seem to have a hierarchy and bylaws seldom change quickly once in place but I hoped for at least a greater show of support for Veriswamy, given that he appeared to be what the British hoped to develop in their colonial subjects. Instead, there was almost nothing but gross insensitivity & racism, though perhaps my attitude is unrealistic, given the time & place.

Lastly, I was disappointed by the ending, even if it may have mirrored something that happened in the author's own life. But in spite of my misgivings, the novel pulled me forward and I was glad that I'd finally taken the time to read it, so much so that I would very much like to make my way at some point to the sleepy port town in lower Myanmar where Burmese Days is set.
Profile Image for Paula Bardell-Hedley.
148 reviews72 followers
February 15, 2018
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 in my mind that I was obliged to write a novel about them to get rid of them."

My Penguin Modern Classics edition of this book has A Note on the Text by Peter Davison, a former president of The Bibliographical Society and editor of its journal; and an Introduction by Emma Larkin, the American author of Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, who describes Burmese Days as “a heady blend of fact and fiction.”

Larkin believes it was during Orwell's time in Burma (now known as Myanmar) that he was, “transformed from a snobbish public-school boy to a writer of social conscience who sought out the underdogs of society.” Indeed, he was an apparatchik during the dying days of the Raj, and it is well documented that he hated his job with the police - the experience leaving him with an immutable loathing of imperialism and authority in general.

Almost everyone in Orwell's far-flung town of Kyauktada is corruptible given expedient circumstances (or at the very least, too drunk or self-obsessed to care what is happening around them), though some, such as local magistrate U Po Kyin, are especially skilled in the art of deception. Even Orwell's protagonist, John Flory, a white timber-merchant who defies convention by befriending a native, is something of an anti-hero. He lacks the courage of his convictions and is loathe to stir up trouble at his all-white Club. He is, however, a shade more enlightened than his compatriots.

I found it almost impossible to develop even the slightest feelings of compassion for any of the characters in this novel: they were, with the sole exception of the honourable Dr. Veraswami, a thoroughly contemptible bunch of bullies, sots and unprincipled degenerates. But that, I believe, is exactly what Orwell intended. This isn't The Trouser People or The Glass Palace (although there are some evocative descriptions of the jungle and its wildlife), rather, it is a crushing indictment of colonial rule.

Burmese Days is a provocative tale of identity, loneliness, ignorance, racism and greed. In Orwell's own words:

"I dare say it's unfair in some ways and inaccurate in some details, but much of it is simply reporting what I have seen."
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,092 followers
July 1, 2022
It is a mark of Orwell’s talent that this, his first novel—though certainly lacking compared to his later work—would probably be considered a worthy effort by a lesser-known mature writer. I very much enjoyed it. His portrait of the racist, weak-minded, washed-up men who composed the British Empire is perfectly devastating. Indeed, this literary takedown is so witheringly effective that, for me, it made up for the book’s flaws—its somewhat belabored descriptions, for example, or its contrived and melodramatic plot. One can clearly see his genius for using literature to achieve political ends.

I also want to note a curious phenomenon that occurs whenever I read Orwell. For some reason, I identify with him so strongly that I even identify with his flaws or shortcomings. It is as if I am, myself, writing the book as I read it. This is very odd, since I am, to the best of my knowledge, not particularly similar to him in any relevant way. (He was my height, though.) This strange sensation also overtakes me when I read Bertrand Russell—whom I resemble even less. Can anybody enlighten me on why this might happen, or shall I go and see a doctor?
Profile Image for Martin.
327 reviews133 followers
March 2, 2022
Cross cultural life in the days of the British Raj.


Coping with racial differences, cast ranks and social standing in the multi-cultural Burma of the 1930s is Flory, a middle aged bachelor trying to overcome all these obstacles.

He is a timber merchant for a teak wood company owned by the British charged with extracting wealth from the Burmese forests. His life revolves around the wood camp, his Burmese mistress and the European Club. The Club's members are all British and determined to keep all other races out. But Flory secretly disagrees.

His best (non British) friend is Dr Veraswami, who supports the British rule in Burma no matter what atrocities may have happened in the past.

U Po Kyin, Sub-divisional Magistrate who wished to fight on the side of the British and become a parasite upon them. This was his ruling ambition.

Finally there is Miss Elizabth Lackersteen recently from England and in search of a husband.

The spark that would turn Flory's world upside down was the notice from the Commissioner . . .

“It has been suggested that as there are as yet no Oriental members of this club, and as it is now usual to admit officials of gazetted rank, whether native or European, to membership of most European Clubs, we should consider the question of following this practice in Kyauktada. The matter will be open for discussion at the next general meeting."


This story was written in the 1930s - time very different from our politically correct times. Readers are advised not to be too shocked with words that now-a-days we cannot bear speak.

Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
1,997 reviews3,973 followers
April 1, 2013
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 institutionally racist English masters. An unflinching depiction of yet another bleak chapter in Britain’s history of world-conquering adventures in repression and brutality. Since all the “bad” archetypes are bundled into the book (i.e. the characters whose attitudes George has to blast) the novel’s credibility is occasionally stretched. But there’s no denying these warped human dung beetles existed and befouled the planet with their pestilence for far too long. As Wayne Coyne and his Lips know well, with loving hands, evil will prevail.
Profile Image for Paul.
2,306 reviews20 followers
January 8, 2017
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 felt Orwell was pulling his punches. It's entirely possible I'm judging the novel unfairly based on his later, more seminal, works but I often felt myself thinking 'oh, stop messing about, George; give the bastards BOTH barrels!

A lesser issue was that I just couldn't see what Flory could possibly see in Elizabeth. I mean, she was awful and it drove me up the wall that he couldn't see it. Oh, well; they do say love is blind, I suppose...

Edited because my spell-checker changed the word 'bastards' to 'Asgards' for some strange reason.
April 6, 2015
สนุกดี นิยายจิกกัดเสียดสีระบอบอาณานิคมอังกฤษในพม่า ตัวเอกเป็นคนผิวขาวคนเดียวทั้งเรื่องที่พอ "เข้าใจ" และ "เห็นใจ" ชนพื้นเมืองคือชาวพม่า แต่ก็เป็น anti-hero ไม่ใช่ "พระเอก" เพราะมีนิสัยเสียหลายอย่าง โดยเฉพาะความขี้ขลาดตาขาว สันหลังยาว ฯลฯ ราวกับว่าผู้เขียนคือ จอร์จ ออร์เวล ระดมเอาแบบฉบับ (stereotypes) แย่ๆ ทั้งหมดของคนอังกฤษยุคล่าอาณานิคมมารวมไว้ในนิยายเล่มเดียว ซึ่งก็อาจทำให้นิยายเรื่องนี้ดูอคติและเหนือจริงมากกว่าสมจริง ถ้าผู้อ่านคนนี้ไม่บังเอิญได้รู้จักเพื่อนตัวเป็นๆ ที่มีนิสัยละม้ายคล้ายกับตัวละครในเรื่อง นั่นคือ คนอังกฤษที่คิดว่าชาติตน "เหนือกว่า" คนผิวเหลือง และคนอินเดียที่หลงใหลในวัฒนธรรมอังกฤษ หรือเป็นอังกฤษยิ่งกว่าคนอังกฤษ :)

ภาษาและลีลาเหลือร้าย บรรยายฉากชีวิตในพม่าและความรู้สึกนึกคิดของตัวละครได้อย่างมีสีสัน ไม่น่าเชื่อว่านี่คือนิยายเรื่องแรกในชีวิตของออร์เวล สำนวนแปลของคุณบัญชาก็ถ่ายทอดลีลาของคนเขียนมาได้อย่างยอดเยี่ยม
Profile Image for Kim.
426 reviews506 followers
September 17, 2013

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 writing.

First published in the United States in 1934 – Orwell’s British publisher Gollanncz having turned it down fearing libel suits - Burmese Days was inspired by Orwell’s time as a member of the Imperial Police in Burma in the 1920s, when Burma was a province of British India. The novel is set in the fictional town of Kyauktada, which is squarely based on Katha, a town located 150 miles north of Mandalay, where Orwell was posted in late 1926*. It's a fierce and articulate indictment of imperialism in general and of the mindset of the British Indian colonisers in particular - equal in passion to EM Forster’s A Passage to India, if rather less so in subtlety.

Orwell’s main character is John Flory, a timber merchant. An outsider in the small British community in Kyauktada, the lonely Flory despises the attitudes and preoccupations of his fellow members of the local “whites only” club, but rarely has the courage to openly speak his mind. His only real friend is Dr Veraswami, the highest ranking “native” official in the town and an ardent supporter of the British Empire, whose downfall is being plotted by the corrupt U Po Kyin. Flory, whose unsightly birthmark symbolises all that isolates him from his fellow colonialists, is torn between loyalty to his friend and the desire to avoid conflict.

In my view, the main weakness of the work is in the omniscient third person narration. At times detached and ironic, it is at other times – particularly in the first part of the novel – indistinguishable from Flory’s (and presumably Orwell’s) voice. While this contributes to the lack of subtlety of the narrative, at least you’re not going to die wondering what the author really thought. And it’s a relatively minor defect in what is otherwise a powerful satire. Orwell’s prose is wonderful and his evocation of time and place is superb. In addition, his characters are memorable. The characterisation of Flory in particular – who is not particularly likeable – is very well-achieved. In his portrayal, there’s a sense of a man who is much better than his surroundings and his lack of personal moral courage allow him to be. Flory’s love interest, Elizabeth, is thoroughly unlikeable. However, even she is still portrayed with sympathy and the reason for her shallowness is understandable.

This is a novel which may particularly appeal to anyone who has had experience of living in a colonial society. As a child, I lived in a place which started out as a French penal colony and which is still effectively under French rule. I remember just how shocking it was to the local whites with whom my parents mixed that they made friends with and socialised with “natives”. This was in the mid-1960s. Things may have changed, but somehow I doubt that they’ve changed very much. The colonial mindset is very hard to shift.

I listened to an audiobook edition narrated by English actor Allan Corduner. He was particularly good with the male voices. However, his voices for the two young female characters left much to be desired. Although they are not sympathetic characters, this doesn’t justify making them sound approximately four times their age.

*According to this article, efforts are currently being made to preserve the house in which Orwell lived in Katha.
Profile Image for John.
1,072 reviews76 followers
August 23, 2020
A solid 3.5.

This was the first novel by Orwell based on his experiences as a policeman in Burma during the 1920s. The characters are all unlikeable and caricatures of English people at that time of colonial imperialism. The native people are also not see in a good light. Only the Indian doctor, Veraswami and Flory’s dog Flo are decent characters in terms of behavior.

Orwell’s anti imperialism comes through clearly. Flory the timber merchant has a love hate relationship with the country. The last 10 years living a life he hates and of drunkenness and debauchery.

All the characters are alienated from society. Flory is trapped amongst people he despises in a remote foreign culture with the Club the centre of their lives. Any views or opinions he has he is unable to voice and so n the alcohol fueled oppressive atmosphere he must stay silent with gritted teeth. This day to day existence makes him depressed and miserable.

Elizabeth then arrives at the town as a penniless English girl who he falls in love. She is also a nasty woman who is trapped with her drunken Uncle and Aunt. She must marry or return to England in poverty. However, Flory is self conscious about a birthmark on his face and the courtship goes awry. His Burmese mistress, the handsome rotten to the core Verall as well as the local Burmese corrupt magistrate U Po Kyin all result in a perhaps inevitable end for Flory and his dog Flo.

A book which is a bitter indictment of the British Empire. The racism, oppression and evils of evil imperialism shine through as well as the helplessness of the oppressors and the oppressed.
Profile Image for Carlo Mascellani.
Author 16 books247 followers
January 16, 2021
Frutto dell'esperienza birmana di Orwell, il romanzo traccia un quadro completo del nazionalismo inglese ai tempi del suo dominio. La voce solitaria di Flory sembra ergersi a condanna dei tanti soprusi perpetrati da connazionali meno aperti o tolleranti: per il resto si respira quel clima di sottomissione indigena e violenza da parte di chi detiene al potere di cui Orwell spesso narra nei suoi libri. Eppure, in questa storia dove l'Oriente sembra consumar le speranze a far naufragar i sogni di tutti, l'autore non sembra convincere fino in fondo. Superbo lo stile, buoni narrazione e intrecci, ma pare più di approcciarsi a un romanzo di Conrad o, al massimo, a un'edizione rivisitata di Passaggio in India. Ben scritto, ma imparagonabile ai grandi capolavori del buon signor Blair.
Profile Image for Sam Quixote.
4,426 reviews12.7k followers
August 12, 2016
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 evil local powermonger, U Po Kyin, who is out to destroy him.

With the expatriate community up in arms over the thought of a non-white club member, U Po Kyin’s machinations to usurp Veraswami’s intentions and become the club’s token native member, the arrival of the attractive but shallow Elizabeth Lackersteen, and an increasingly discontented native people, the stage is set for dramatic change for everyone.

The novel looks at the imperial bigotry of the British expatriates and the dirty side of colonialism, showing how the British Empire exploited third world countries under the guise of improving the “uncivilised” natives’ lives by imposing British culture upon them. But it also examines the ways colonialism damages the expatriates psychologically, and sometimes physically, as Flory says to Veraswami: “It corrupts us, it corrupts us in ways you can’t imagine.”

It takes an unflinching look at the racism and bigotry prevalent in the British expatriates’ views toward the natives and is at times hard to read for its unblemished dialogue filled with disgusting epithets uttered by many of the British characters, especially Ellis. Orwell is condemning of all of the British characters, including the anti-hero Flory, whom he writes as lazy, drunken sots sitting around aimlessly with an undeserved sense of superiority. Flory is perhaps more despicable as he is aware of the terrible nature of their behaviour but is too cowardly to stand up to them for fear of losing his comfortable existence.

But the novel isn’t entirely successful in its execution. It reads like Orwell attempting to do his versions of two classic novels - Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham - and falling short. His criticisms of the expatriate community and its effects on the Burmese population are certainly valid and are rendered in a convincing way, but they lack the memorable excoriation that Conrad gave in his novella - it simply doesn’t possess the same intensity. The same is true of the Flory/Elizabeth Lackersteen romance which feels like a compressed, less powerful rendition of the tragic courtship of Philip Carey and Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage.

In attempting to do two very different novels in one, much shorter novel - a searing critique of British colonialism and its effects, and a sweeping, complex romance - Orwell doesn’t accomplish either with any high degree of success. The romance is rushed and unconvincing, not to mention predictable, leading to a near hysterical and melodramatic finale that sits awkwardly in comparison to the rest of the novel. The damning of colonialism doesn’t really rise above mocking the easy targets of racist old British men - Orwell shies away from looking too deeply into U Po Kyin and Dr Veraswami’s lives, the latter of which is a key character to the story and is criminally unserved and largely ignored.

Burmese Days is a decent debut novel. Orwell spent a few years in Burma as a police officer and his experiences lend weight to the descriptions of the country - the reader can feel the stifling heat of the country and tense atmosphere between the natives and the British. And Burmese Days’ anti-establishment leanings and subversive, wry tone hint at the direction Orwell’s writing would take in later novels like Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. But while Burmese Days possesses Orwell’s effortless high quality writing and piercing eye for human behaviour, it’s at times unfocused and underdeveloped in its themes and direction, both aspects that Orwell would go on to become much better at in later books.

Debut novels are rarely perfect, and Orwell’s certainly isn’t, but some of its critiques at third world exploitation by richer, western countries, remain valid today and as such, Burmese Days is still a relevant novel, thought certainly one of his lesser efforts, by one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century.
Profile Image for Cemre.
690 reviews465 followers
July 30, 2019
Burma Günleri ile beraber George Orwell'ın altı kitabını okumuş oldum. Bu altı kitabın hepsi bence birbirinden bir hayli farklı; ama hepsi de bir o kadar benzer nitelikler taşıyor.
Burma Günleri'ne gelirsem bana -niye tam bilemiyorum ama- Boğulmamak İçin'i anımsattı.

Kitabın ana karakteri John Flory, İngiliz sömürgesi olan Burma'da görevli çok az sayıda "beyaz"dan biri. Flory'i diğer "beyaz"lardan ayıran bir yön var, o da Burmalılara diğer İngilizler kadar kötü davranmaması. Hatta bu diğer İngilizler olmasa Flory'nin onlarla gerçek birer dost olabilmesi bile mümkün. Yine de yetiştiği, içinde yaşamaya devam ettiği ortam buna tam anlamıyla izin vermiyor tabii. Birkaç Burmalı dostu olsa da hiçbir zaman onları tam anlamıyla destekleyemiyor, hiçbir zaman aslında haksız ve hatalı olduğunu hissettiği İngilizlere ciddi şekilde karşı çıkamıyor. Ne Burmalılarla tam anlamıyla dostluk kurup anlaşabiliyor ne de İngilizlerle. Oldukça yalnız bir adam Flory. Kasabaya gelen bir İngiliz'in yeğenini -Elizabeth- bu yalnızlığına, bu çaresizliğine bir çare olarak görüyor. Ona bir can simidi gibi sarılmaya çalışıyor. Öyle ki bu çaresizliği pek çok şeyi görmesine ve anlamasına mani oluyor. Örneğin Elizabeth tam anlamıyla sanattan, edebiyattan nefret eden biri, hatta oldukça sığ; oysa Flory'i ise yaşama bağlayanlar, edebiyat ve sanat. Flory Elizabeth'in bu nefretini bile görmüyor; çünkü çaresiz, çünkü Elizabeth yardımı olmadan yalnızlığından kurtulması mümkün değil. Yalnızlığından kurtulmak için Elizabeth'i hep hayal ettiği kadın olarak görmek zorunda. Yine de ne yapsa da olmuyor. O içindeki boşluğu maalesef dolduramıyor.

Orwell, İngiliz sömürgesinde yaşanan korkunç haksızlıkları, çıkarları uğruna kendinden olanlara yapmadığını bırakmayan Burmalıları ve ülkelerinde hiçbir artı değerleri yokken sömürgede sırf tenlerinin rengi ve ırkları sebebiyle birer Tanrı haline gelenleri iyi bir kurguyla başarılı bir şekilde anlatmış. Okunmalı.
Profile Image for Jacob Overmark.
200 reviews9 followers
November 28, 2020
But Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.

Behold, this day You have driven me from the face of the earth, and from Your face I will be hidden; I will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

“Not so!” replied the LORD. “If anyone slays Cain, then Cain will be avenged sevenfold.” And the LORD placed a mark on Cain, so that no one who found him would kill him.…

I can hardly think Orwell didn´t have "Cain´s mark" in mind when creating Mr. Flory.

Mr. Flory himself lived his life in the hope of salvation, by almost any means - from himself, from the situation he had put himself in, from where there seemed no escape, and he knew all too well that he was a marked man.

The love story, however touching, is just a narrative tool, but a tool used very well to reflect the frailty of the human nature.

We are approximately 20 years from the time when the "British India" begin falling seriously apart.
If we look at the people described in Burmese Days, they are nothing but accidents waiting to happen.

Nowadays, they would have been deemed unsuitable to serve any posting abroad, but times were different back then.
Hence we must also forgive the high degree of political incorrectness which runs like a river through the novel.

But Orwell as an outspoken social critic had a purpose and it is quite clear, also in 2020, that he is taking a stand - and the official worries about figures and situations being too recognizable, which led to a one year delay of publishing in the UK, speaks its own language, Burmese Days hit a bit too close to home.

One of the books which should leave you thinking, and feeling sorry for humanity.
Profile Image for Eleanor.
493 reviews48 followers
April 20, 2017
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 also saw nothing wrong with going out and killing birds and animals for no good reason. The description of Flory and Elizabeth's shooting expedition will stay with me for a long time. The only good thing about it was that the people of the village acquired some meat to eat.

So for me, it was a powerful but deeply unpleasant read. But then, you don't come to Orwell for something cosy!
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,648 followers
November 8, 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 those interested in early Orwell or the decline of the post-WWI British Empire.
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