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Monday, June 1, 2020

Finding George Orwell in Burma


Despite press freedom remaining a distant ideal, Burma is a country of voracious readers. In the historic downtown of Yangon – the former capital once known as Rangoon – there are many streetside book vendors, their battered and dusty tomes laid out on the pavements for passing pedestrians to sift through.

Pirate copies of George Orwell’s "Burmese Days" are a staple of those stalls. It’s a telling fact that it remains the most widely read English-language book about Burma, despite being first published in 1934.

In Burma there is a joke that Orwell wrote not just one novel about the country, but three: a trilogy comprised of "Burmese Days", "Animal Farm" and "Nineteen Eighty-Four." Even so, it's unlikely to meet many people in Burma who had actually read "Nineteen Eighty-Four." As one Burmese quipped, "Why do they need to read it? They are already living inside 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' in their daily lives."

Emma Larkin, the author of "Finding George Orwell in Burma", knows only too well the many ways this police state can be described as "Orwellian". The life of the mind exists in a state of siege in Burma, and it long has. When Larkin quietly asked one Burmese man if he knew the work of George Orwell, he stared blankly for a moment and then said, "Ah, you mean the prophet."

"Finding George Orwell in Burma" is the story of the year Emma Larkin spent travelling across this shuttered police state using the life and work of Orwell as her guide. To read the book online, click here.
(create an account - it's free!, then log in, and "borrow" the book)

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