Over the years the American writer Emma Larkin has spent traveling in Burma, she has come to know all 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. The connection between George Orwell and Burma is not simply metaphorical, of course; Orwell's mother was born in Burma, and he was shaped by his experiences there as a young man working for the British Imperial Police. Both his first novel, Burmese Days, and the novel he left unfinished upon his death were set in Burma. And then there is the place of Orwell's work in Burma today: Larkin found it a commonplace observation in Burma that Orwell did not write one book about the country but three - the other two being Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. When Larkin quietly asked one Burmeseman 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 Larkin spent traveling across this shuttered police state, using the life and work of Orwell as her guide. Traveling from Mandalay and Rangoon to poor delta backwaters and up to the old hill-station towns in the mountains of Burma's far north, Larkin visits the places Orwell worked and lived and the places his books live still. She brings to vivid life a country and a people cut off from the rest of the world, and from one another, by the ruling military junta and its network of spies and informers.
Emma Larkin is the pseudonym for an American journalist born in Asia who has been traveling through Burma off and on for almost two decades. The pseudonym is necessary to protect her safety within the county, allowing her to continue to report on the ruling military junta and the citizens whose freedom continues to be crushed under this oppressive regime. George Orwell is the pseudonym for Eric Blair, a young man whose time in the British Imperial Police gave him an intimate knowledge of Burmese life that ultimately contributed to his fame as a writer of books that oppose totalitarianism. Emily Durante is Emily Durante's real name, and she has been narrating audiobooks for over 10 years, including both of Emma Larkin's books on Burma.
In this first book, Larkin charts a course through the country based on landmarks and people that are significant in the life of George Orwell. Orwell's first novel, Burmese Days, is actually only one of four major works to which Larkin continually refers. As Burma is on intellectual lockdown, it is a clear influence on Orwell's ideas of governance and censorship in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. The novel Orwell was working on when he died was also set in Burma. Durante reports Larkin's observations as objectively as possible. Her voice work is detached but factually astounding, appropriately emotive but not overly polemical. Like Orwell's deep characterizations, Durante lets Larkin's prose speak for itself. The moral of the story becomes all too obvious and the outcomes descend with a resounding inevitability.
For those not familiar with Orwell's work, this book stands alone by providing enough background and appropriate quotation to keep the flow of information both interesting and logical (but beware of spoilers here, if you intend to read Orwell's work in future). For die-hard Orwell fans, the very many parallels to modern Burma will be a striking new way of reading your old favorites. And no matter how much or how little you know about Burma, Durante's approach to Larkin's approach to Orwell's approach to Burma will shed a unique and much-needed light on the secretive police state through an incredibly rare first-hand account. Megan Volpert
"[Larkin] comes across...as an inquisitive and trustworthy guide to the underlying reality of a country whose leaders would rather have outsiders focus only on their carefully constructed veneer." (Publishers Weekly)
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Orwell's Horrors Brought to Life