In light of the disaster in Myanmar, I was interested to find this memoir by Emma Larkin, pseudonym for an American journalist who spent some time in Myanmar researching George Orwell's experiences in that country. Orwell was a policeman for the British government in the 1920s when Myanmar was known as Burma (I always think of the King and I when I say that name). Interestingly, his mother was also from Burma.
I always thought that Orwell's political fiction was motivated by his hatred of Communist Russia, but Larkin suggests that Orwell's novels - Burmese Days, 1984, and Animal Farm - form a trilogy that is rooted in Burma. Larkin suggests that Orwell had his first tastes of autocracy and tyranny while stationed in British colonized Burma. Russia and Communisim did impact Orwell's work, but these were not the only influences. At the end of his life, Orwell was planning to write a story about Burma. Some suggest, as would make sense, that Orwell started to write Burmese Days when he was in Burma, despite the fact that Down and Out in Paris and London made it to print first. Clearly, Burma made a significant impact on young Orwell, one that he would never entirely forget.
Larkin blends Burmese history, Orwellian philosophy and literary criticism, with insights into modern day Myanmar life in Finding George Orwell in Burma. It is a scary sight. 1984 is unfortunately alive and well in this small Asian country.
When the news about Myanmar broke a few months ago, I, like many others, wondered why the Myanmar government refused foreign help. After reading this memoir, it is clear why they did. Any outside influence or uncontrollable situation could loosen the choke-hold of the autocratic government lodged in power in Myanmar, and the ruling generals refuse to let that happen.
Larkin closes the book with a supposition about the end of the regime by referencing the truth that terror cannot reign forever. After watching the way the Myanmar government has (not) handled the devastation that befell their people, I hope it ends quickly. I know George Orwell would agree.