Finding George Orwell in Burma

In This Review

Finding George Orwell in Burma

By Emma Larkin
Penguin Press, 2005
304 pp. $22.95
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Larkin (a pseudonym) is a Burmese-speaking American journalist who decided to go to Burma to retrace all the steps George Orwell took as a young police officer in the British colonial service. She was guided by Orwell's first novel, Burmese Days -- she repeats the witticism that Orwell did not write just one book about Burma's police state, but a trilogy that also includes Animal Farm and 1984 -- and skillfully weaves Orwell into her own experiences in contemporary Burma. Her account of what she came across is at times very moving. Older intellectuals there still live in a world filled with nineteenth-century English novels, but her other encounters make vivid the repressive nature of the Burmese military government. By gracefully stepping back and forth between the writings of a great novelist and the history of a troubled country, and recording it in smooth, flowing prose, Larkin shows herself to be a master both in a great literary tradition and of reporting on a brutal tyranny.