Finding George Orwell in Burma

by Emma Larkin

Emma Larkin is the pseudonym for an American journalist born in Asia. She embarked on a journey to visit places in Burma, following the footsteps of the author George Orwell. George Orwell was stationed in Burma during his youth, his first post as an imperial policeman. Burma was an unpopular first choice for overseas posting, but was Orwell’s because of his family connections, his mother having grown up in Burma and part of the maternal family still living there.

In Burma (now Myanmar, although the new name is not recognized by opposing parties and minorities within the country), George Orwell was known more than an author though. He was known as “the prophet”, because his work, 1984 and Animal Farms, had eerily described the future of Burma, as the military took control, oppressed democracy and turned the country into a totalitarian regime who seriously repressing its citizen. Current residents feel that they are living through the story of 1984, where their every move and word is censored and reported.

Larkin travelled through Burma, to cities such as Mandalay and Rangoon. While many travellers see the poetic scenery and gentle people, a peaceful tropical paradise, (as a matter of fact, Burma used to be among the richest Asian countries and a major exporter of rice grown from its rich, delta soil) Larkin reported the undercurrent of oppression and hardship. She recorded some of the experience of ex-political prisoners and other freedom fighters, but the thickness of the air permiated the book: in conversations which ended mid-sentence, until a comment of food or weather brought the topic back on safer grounds; in mysteriously appeared men who suggested the author to retreat to her hotel; in the author’s growing paranoia: is the potted plant next to her coffee table bugged? Did someone steal her diary?

The quoted passages from George Orwell’s books echoed the present condition of the Burmese, as Larkin travelled in the seemingly timeless landscape, imagining Orwell’s life as she stood among the ruins of the colonial buildings. An excellent travelogue that capture the essence of the places she visited, interweaving fiction and fact, past and present. Well worth a read.

Published in: on December 27, 2008 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

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