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Orwell and Myanmar

Besides the people and landscapes, the reason I want to go to Myanmar is George Orwell, who arrived in formerly-known Burma in November 1922 as a youthful member of the Indian Imperial Police. Sent first to Mandalay, he also spent time in the Ayeyarwady Delta and Mawlamyine, where his mother grew up, before being posted to the distant Katha.

Orwell’s experience in Burma convinced him of the wrongs of imperialism and he gained a reputation as an outsider more interested in spending time with the Burmese than in more appropriate pursuits for a British officer. In this he resembled Flory, the protagonist of his first novel Burmese Days, which was set in a thinly disguised Katha. Orwell also wrote about Burma in his essays A Hanging and Shooting an Elephant.

There’s a long-standing joke that Orwell actually wrote three books about Burma, including his denunciations of totalitarianism Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Unlike the anti-imperialist Burmese Days, until recently both of the later works were banned by the regime. All three books are on my re-read list, and I will read them before I leave for Myanmar in January.

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