Monday, 22 November 2010

Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop by Emma Larkin


DATE READ: November 2010

NOTES: Emma Larkin uses the writings of George Orwell as a “peg” for a travel memoir about Myanmar. She starts at Mandalay, goes on the Myangmya in the Delta region, then to Rangoon, then Moulmein and lastly to Katha. Her travels and interactions with locals are obviously helped with her knowledge of the local language. However in conversations it is never made clear whether they are talking in English or Burmese.

The best parts of the book are the linking together of Orwell’s novel Burmese Days with the places and people that she meets. Orwell was a complex character and some of his contradictions are included. He wrote passionately about anti-colonialism but he also seems to have been very domineering in his dealings with locals. The book fares less well when she tries to equate Animal Farm and 1984 with present day Myanmar. Many of the comparisons seemed clumsy and forced. I read this book in anticipation of a visit to the country. The book succeeded in giving a “feel” of the place – and I will definitely visit Pansodan Street, Yangon which is supposed to be filled with bookshops!

Homonym alert!!! On page 200 we have “hoards of people” – oh dear, that really should have been spotted by the editor….

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