Burmese Days, by George Orwell
$11.70 at Bn.com ISBN: 0156148501
Orwell is best known for the apocalyptic novel 1984, and his fairy-tale manifesto Animal Farm. Born British, Orwell served as a police officer as a young man in what was then the colony of Burma. He used these experiences in this, his very first novel, and one of my personal favorite works of fiction. The story revolves around a country club where white overseers can relax together after a day of supervising their Burmese workers in nearby lumber camps and military training facilities. The British, of course, were not famous for excessive kindness in dealing with colonized people, and for this reason the novel has all the turbulence and intrigue that come with political instability.
The tragic anti-hero, a middle-aged, middle management type named Flory, is beginning to feel that he's all used up, has given the best years of his life to getting ahead in Burma, and is wondering where it's all headed. Enter Elizabeth, an eligible young bachelorette fresh in from the mother country, staying with her aunt and uncle. Flory, naturally, falls instantly in love, but can he win over a dainty young lady from high society after years with the natives in the steamy jungles of Southeast Asia?
But the story isn't driven on romance alone! While Flory courts Elizabeth, dissatisfied Burmese plot a revolt against the imperialist British. Flory feels torn between his loyalty to his "own people" and the native culture he's grown to love. Meanwhile, U Po Kyin, a sinister and corrupt official plays the British and Burmese against each other to achieve his own ends through murder and subterfuge. Everyone loves an awesome villain!
Orwell has an knack for creating beautifully developed characters in a single chapter. Flory, Elizabeth, and the arrogant Brits at the country club feel like real people you could make friends with, if you wanted to (which you almost never will). The exotic setting gives the story an exciting flavor, and thanks to the violence and political upheaval, it's never boring. Filled with shady dealings, prostitutes, desperation, and class warfare, you'll feel like you're actually in Orwell's Burmese village as a visitor.
This is story-telling at its best! One of the first "serious" novels I read (it was eleventh grade), this is an excellent springboard into a higher class of literature. A fast-paced 287 pages that's exciting to the end, please give a chance to this widely overlooked gem. It's not hard to get into at all, with a familiar author and an unforgettable setting. A light classic with an awesome story that you're sure to enjoy!