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Burmese Days by George Orwell
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's review
Apr 24, 2009

really liked it
Read in May, 2009

This is Orwell's first published work of fiction, and having read all of his other fiction and longer non-fiction books, it is the final major work of his I will have the opportunity to read. As Orwell is one of my favorite authors for a number of reasons, I of course have to read all of his work. The reasons I love Orwell are many: The honesty and decency of his character which shows throughout his body of work, the plain and frank nature of his prose - still so refreshing, and the bold and brave (even heroic) nature of his life. Like Bertrand Russell, he was more than just one person - where Russell was both philosopher and social crusader, Orwell was novelist, journalist and freedom fighter.

To Orwell neophytes, I recommend (of course) '1984' and 'Animal Farm', and simultaneously his non-fiction 'Road to Wigan Pier'*, 'Homage to Catalonia' and 'Down and Out in Paris and London'. They are all essential. More difficult is choosing among his earlier fiction. I would rank 'Burmese Days', along with 'A Clergyman's Daughter', being the earliest two novels, as not as deftly constructed as 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying' and 'Coming Up For Air' (as well as his final fiction works, '1984' and 'Animal Farm'). His essays are of course absolutely essential, absolutely foundation, absolutely indispensable to all readers, and I wholeheartedly recommend a collection of his best essays to anyone.

With 'Burmese Days', Orwell puts into fiction his experiences as an officer in the British Empire in Burma. Explanations and summaries can be found elsewhere of the work itself. I found the style crisp, smart and efficient, if perhaps a bit long. As a young author, perhaps Orwell felt the need to make his novel longer than it needs to be so as to fit the mold of a adventurous, romantic novel of its genre, as opposed to the social commentary which underlies all of his work. His later works would get leaner and more intelligent. Throughout 'Burmese Days', there is an keen intelligence which glimmers behind the story, evident in every scene. For someone with such a non-literary upbringing, his first novel is a very great accomplishment.

* For those who have read Frank McCourt's ''Tis', I recommend 'Road to Wigan Pier', from which McCourt seems to have lifted entire passages detailing the squalor of mine workers' living conditions in Wigan, transplanting them to McCourt's childhood. My father alleges the lifting is almost literal.
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04/27/2009 page 174
11/05/2016 marked as: read
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