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Finding George Orwell in Burma

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  3,270 ratings  ·  400 reviews
A fascinating political travelogue that traces the life and work of George Orwell in Southeast Asia

Over the years the American writer Emma Larkin has spent traveling in Burma, also known as Myanmar, she's come to know all too well the many ways this brutal police state can be described as "Orwellian." The life of the mind exists in a state of siege in Burma, and it long ha
Paperback, 295 pages
Published March 6th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published 2004)
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Aug 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A mix of a book: history, politics, travelogue, analysis and biography all rolled up into one. Emma Larkin manages to bring all these things together in an interesting way.
Tracing George Orwell’s career path in Burma while she is on a trip to Burma, Larkin contrasts her observations, the country’s political situation and the state of the people in present time with Orwell’s experiences as a young, impressionable colonial police officer in his various posts throughout Burma, his observations and
This was really three inter-related stories - Larkin's search for Orwell's roots in Burma (of which there are surprisingly many), a rough history of Burma under the waning days of the British Raj (which presents a not-surprisingly more critical view than the contemporaneous story of "Elephant Bill" Williams as told in the rousing Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II, which I also recently read), and then the truly ups ...more
Aug 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Re-tracing Orwell's own steps and making many of her own through modern-day Myanmar/Burma, Emma Larkin writes a convincing case that both 1984 and Animal Farm, George Orwell's most well-known works, are inspired by the paranoia and fear-mongering of the Burmese police state. Orwell spent approximately five years in Burma as a British imperial policeman in the 1920s, and traveled widely around the country. Many of his experiences in the country led to his work Burmese Days, and his experiences th ...more
Michael Gerald
Apr 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
"By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
'Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!'"

- "Mandalay", by Rudyard Kipling

George Orwell (Real name: Eric Blair) is most famous for his dystopian and anti-totalitarianism novels Animal Farm and 1984, but he also wrote an earlier novel about colonialism: Burmese Days.

Orwell's parents were born i
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: burma
Larkin travels Burma looking for traces of George Orwell. She visits the city of his grandparents' residence, the police academy he attended, his posting, and scenes of his novels and essays. Everywhere she goes she finds Burma "Orwellian".

Larkin does a great job of describing how Burma has evolved to this and the prescience of Orwell. Her quotes and references to Burmese Days, Animal Farm and 1984 are perfectly placed with her modern day experiences.

Knowing the language, and apparently steeped
Andrea Hewitt
Jul 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, favorites
Oh, how I adored this book! The author uses George Orwell's writings about Burma to frame her present-day travels in the same country (now called Myanmar). If you have read any George Orwell, you will really appreciate this book in ways I can't even describe. But even if you haven't, you will still come away with a new appreciation for how average people cope living under a strict dictatorship. I still think about this book all of the time...go read it now! ...more
Patrick McCoy
Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I have visited Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). I had some misgivings about visiting the military totalitarian state at first. It is sort of a mini version of North Korea, but with less power. But this book helped changed my mind since I am equally interested in George Orwell, one of my favorite writers, and I particularly enjoyed his colonial novel Burmese Days. Thus, I was naturally inclined to read Emma Larkin’s book Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell In A Burmese Tea Shop. It didn’t d ...more
I first came across George Orwell when we had to read Animal Farm at school for a set text in the mid-1980s. This was around the time of the cold war and the way he portrayed the takeover by the pigs on the farm and the way that they changed the agenda each time for their own ends was quite chilling. 1984 was the year that everyone was reading Nineteen Eighty-Four, except me; I didn’t read it until 2013… I have since read a few of his books and found him a fascinating author to read, but I knew ...more
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
"I'm gonna write a history book about Burma's dictatorship but no one will buy that book, so let's put Orwell's name in the title."
I'm not a historian so I don't know if this book was honest about Burma's regime or not but it has nothing to do with Orwell, she just drops Orwell's name for no reason in every chapter and compares Burma's dictatorship to his 1984. (oh what a surprise, a dictatorship resembles Orwell's 1984!!! every fucking dictatorship resembles that book idiot!)
p.s: I don't trust
AJ LeBlanc
This was a book club pick and proved to be an interesting challenge because my prior knowledge of Burma was around zero, and I didn’t remember much from school about George Orwell.

Emma Larkin is a pseudonym for a writer who has lived in Thailand and has crossed the border into Burma (now Myanmar) several times to write about the country and its human rights issues. In this book, she traces the time George Orwell spent in Burma as a member of the British Imperial Police. His experiences there in
Jun 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read this while headingto the Delta in Burma and after having finished Burmese Days... I really loved her readable style and could really feel her emotions and frustration about the situation in Burma. It's now 2 years after the democratic changes have started to come and I would love to know if its changed at all and what her collection of friends have to say about it all. I also felt cmpletely compelled to read and re-read George Orwell's other books and learn more about him after reading th ...more
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first read this book just over 5 years ago – I had to check back to be sure of when it was. I loved it – but rather rashly gave away my copy thinking I could get another copy easily. Well it proved rather harder to get a cheap copy (I balked at the some of the high prices on the internet). So when Kaggsy from Librarything recently offered me a second hand copy she had found I was delighted. It even arrived in time to fit into my month of re-reading.
Many years ago I read George Orwell’s Animal
Jun 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Emma Larkin - a pseudonym for an American journalist living in Bangkok who hypothesizes that George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 were set in Burma (and not the Soviet Union). After all Burmese Days his first book, and his last novella (untitled) which he wrote upon his death bed, were both set in Burma. He lived there for 5 years as an Imperial policeman and of course, also wrote the beautiful short story Shooting an Eleplant. I'm a big Orwell fan. I was so excited to read this book and she doe ...more
Margaret Sankey
May 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Larkin (a pseudonym to protect her Burmese contacts), explores the places George Orwell, product of empire, worked during his posting in Burma, tying these experiences closely to both Burmese Days and his subsequent work. The Burmese, for their part, regard Orwell as both an obnoxious colonialist and a prophet, joking that he wrote a prescient trilogy about Burma--adding Animal Farm and 1984.
Chitra Ahanthem
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A non fiction that is part travelogue, part literary overview of the works of George Orwell AND part commentary on the socio political journey of Burma (the name Myanmar is an imposition by the junta there), here’s a book you have to read if you are a fan of Orwell or been fascinated by his writings. It is a book that takes you behind the scenes of a country that has been presented as idyllic and puts you face to face with its oppressive surveillance.

Emma Larkin (a pseudonym of an American Journ
Pretty much anything about Myanmar is bound to pique my interest, and Larkin's travelogue was no exception. Granted, if you've read much about Myanmar before, and especially if you've actually been, you're not going to find that many surprises. It's mostly just a recapitulation of shit you know about already, as the stories of wise, witty Burmese people confronting their complete hopelessness is something you encounter time and time again, both in the books about Myanmar and in an actual visit ( ...more
A very readable "political travelogue" from a writer who has followed the political situation in Burma very closely. Burma for a long time has been ruled by a military junta that suppresses free speech and thought, denouncing any criticism of its one-party military rule. Larkin interviews many brave souls through whom we learn the most about the state of the country, one whose history is being constantly erased. Larkin retraces Orwell's early career as an imperial soldier in the country, constan ...more
Jul 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
When I first started researching Burma, I tried to start with Burma: The Curse of Independence (see my bookshelf for another review) but couldn't get into it at first because it was so mind-boggling to keep track of the many peoples, languages, and organization acronyms that co-exist with Burma's borders. I needed a toe-hold on the country first. Larkin's book gave me the overview on the history and the current situation in Burma which allowed me to make sense of Burma: The Curse of Independence ...more
In Emma Larkin's memoir Finding George Orwell in Burma Larkin hopes to discover more about Orwell by retracing Orwell's 5 years of service in the Imperial Police Force when he was stationed in Burma. With a battered copy of Orwell's Burmese Days Larkin discovers a Burma exploited in the past by colonial Britain and currently (published in 2004) being terrorized by one of the world's most brutal dictatorships.

With insight and honesty Larkin shows us the dignity and grace of the Burmese people as
Jun 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Really fascinating look at the extreme totalitarian world that the Burmese live under. I just finished rereading 1984, and I was glad that I had because the parallels between Oceania of Orwell's novel and modern Myanmar are just astounding. Orwell was using the Soviet Union as his model, but he definitely described certain aspects of Burma accurately which just goes to show that totalitarian regimes will be much the same, regardless of the country they are ruling. The despair and hopelessness of ...more
Jon Rees
Apr 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book while travelling in Myanmar with my father this April. I read it almost immediately following George Orwell's Burmese Days and it was really rewarding to see and imagine the environment in which Orwell once lived and walked. The opening of Larkin's text deals with a confused conversation between the author and a professor of literature living in Myanmar: a language barrier means that they can't immediately establish the identity of their shared favourite author. It reminded me o ...more
Eric B. Kennedy
Oct 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Sometimes a book is good enough, but just doesn't click. That was my experience with "Finding George Orwell in Burma." It fits a number of genres I often enjoy (e.g., travel writing, political analysis), but somehow just didn't really resonate.

In Finding, Emma Larkin recounts a trip through Burma spurred on by a desire to follow in the footsteps of George Orwell. Orwell had been stationed as a British officer in Burma, and much of his writing - including 1984 - exudes influence from his time in
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is unique and a pleasant, though anticlimactic read. It's probably more travelogue than biography or political history, though its blend of the three makes for descriptive, light, but interesting reading for the avid South East Asian political reader and 1984 fan.

I found that, although I had some preconceptions about what life under authoritarian rule looked like, this book really gave a clear picture of what life is like for regular people in this most nightmarish form of government.
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eric Blair served on the Imperial police force in the 1920s and quit suddenly to write in the UK. Burma achieved independence in 1948 when the military dictator closed it off and socialism made it the poorest Asian country. Orwell’s first book, Burmese Days, depicts colonialism from 1885 when British banished the king to India. The author contends that Animal farm, as story of socialist revolution gone badly, and 1984’s depiction of a brutal dictatorship, also refer to Burma. Certainly all his b ...more
Hunter Marston
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Larkin's book was thoroughly enjoyable. She imparts a deep understanding of the country based on her extensive time there. Clearly her ability to speak Burmese facilitates her interactions with people and the places she traveled to for this book. Her ability to weave between Orwell's life in Burma, his written works, and modern-day Myanmar society were extremely interesting and moving. But most of all, I think her ability to really analytically explore the culture of disinformation and lack of f ...more
Lizzy Tonkin
Aug 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating book. I struggled a little to follow along with some of the storytelling as I have next to no context for life & culture in Burma/Myanmar. Since this was published in 2004, I’m curious how the situation has or hasn’t changed in the past 17 years. Will definitely be spending some time researching this. Now off to listening to the Myanmar Oral History podcast I found…
Nov 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Finding George Orwell in Burma is part travelogue and part political discourse on the country of Myanmar detailing Emma Larkin's journey through the country following George Orwell's postings in the five years that he spent there as an Officer in the Imperial Police Force.

Originally published as Secret Histories in 2004, the book was first written under the pseudonym John Murray. Republished a year later, a pseudonym was again used to protect both the author and the people with whom she interact
Feb 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Myanmar
After The Trouser People this was the second book I read in Burma about Burma. This book was actually my preferred choice, but I couldn't find it in Bangkok before going to Burma. Finding "Finding George Orwell in Burma" in Burma took me a while and was quite difficult, but not as impossible as you would think after reading the book. It is crazy how different I experienced Burma than the writers of these two books barely 8-10 years ago. At times the country now feels annoyingly touristic and esp ...more
Rick Silva
Nov 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Author George Orwell spent five years serving as a police officer in Burma (now Myanmar) in the 1920s when the country was a British colony.

Emma Larkin traces Orwell's steps through the cities and villages of modern Myanmar, a country ruled by one of the longest-reigning totalitarian dictatorships on Earth.

Combining travel writing with politics and literature, Larkin parallels life in Myanmar with Orwell's dystopian world of 1984. She also examines colonial Burma, exploring the ruins of the Brit
May 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Finding George Orwell in Burma takes a unique approach to both travel and foreign reporting. First, the travels through the country follow George Orwell's stations when he was an imperial police officer in the country (experiences that led to his first novel, Burmese Days ). But Orwell serves as a focus in another way. The author tries to take us inside the rampant government paranoia and repressiveness, comparing the country's current state directly to Orwell's 1984 . I read the book ...more
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“By using these informal informers, the MI have become incredibly effective, he said. The reason the system works so well is very simple: it is hard to tell who is an informer and who is not. The” 1 likes
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