Thursday, June 2, 2011
Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin
Title: Finding George Orwell in Burma
Author: Emma Larkin
Publication Year: 2006
I think this and the English version of Yukio Mishima's 午後の曳航 (because the last time I tried to take on Mishima's works in Japanese it was just too much) will be the last English book I'll read for a while. Every once in a while I like to have an English book binge.
Summary: In Burma, George Orwell is known as "The Prophet" because three of his works, Burmese Days, Animal Farm, and 1984, can all be looked at as books about Burma. The first represents the British colonial days of Burma, and the latter two are more closely tied into what modern day Burma is like.
A journalist travels inside Burma, where travel is hard and the government's eyes are everywhere, to see what the places where Orwell was posted as a military officer in his young look like today, and now much modern day Burma is just as dystopian as the settings of Orwell's novels.
Plot: It's amazing how much Burma (also known as Myanmar, but I will refer to it as Burma) is like a living dystopia. Tracing Orwell's steps is sort of a gimmick, and I would still have read the book if it didn't have it, namely because I know so little about Burma, but being a fan of dystopian novels (Orwell's and, more recently, Kino no Tabi), it was both surreal and horrifying to know that something like what is in those novels exists. One of this things that immediately endeared me to the Burmese people was their love of books. Most of them were voracious readers of classic novels in English, as that was one of the few ways they learned anything about the outside world. The newspapers were always false, and the "official" view of history was often changed. Articles about Burma, and current events that might provoke people to revolt were taken out of imported magazines in English, so it was hard to get any "real" news at all.
Prose: Even though the author is an American (although she did go to a British college), the book was published in England first, under the slightly flashier title of Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Tea Shop, and as such, has British spellings throughout. This is really a trivial detail but normally I have no problems with reading British English (as a big fan of Harry Potter, Monty Python, and having read a lot of, and even prefer British classic literature to American classics in most cases, because I find it to be generally more literary eloquent) but I dare say there were a few times when I found I had no clue what a few nouns were referring to ^-^; which made the novel even more exotic in a way... anyway, it didn't interrupt my enjoyment of the book much, and in general I found the prose flowing and lively, with more humor throughout than I expected.
Who I would recommend this to: Readers of travelogues or dystopian novels.