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Burmese Days, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Coming Up for Air [Hardcover]

George Orwell
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Mar 2011

Orwell draws on his experience in the Indian Imperial Police for his first novel, BURMESE DAYS, a devastating indictment of British colonial rule (he resigned 'to escape not merely from imperialism but from every form of man's dominion over man', as he later wrote). John Flory, cowardly and self-pitying, makes an unlikely but all-too-human tragic hero as he defies convention and prejudice to befriend an Indian doctor, then shoots himself when the girl who had seemed to promise escape from the stultifying 'lie' of colonial life refuses to marry him. While reporting on the dark side of the Raj, Orwell nonetheless came under the spell of the landscape of the East, and the exotic background of BURMESE DAYS inspired his most lush descriptive writing.

...Back in England, Orwell tackles capitalism, nonconformity and compromise in KEEP THE ASPIDISTRA FLYING. Youthful idealist and would-be author Gordon Comstock rebels against a life of middle-class respectability (symbolized by the aspidistra), abandoning his job with an advertising company to work part-time in a bookshop. But everything goes wrong: alternately proud and self-loathing, he lets himself sink into poverty; he is unable to write; he gets his long-suffering girlfriend pregnant. At the end, respectably married - and with an aspidistra of his own -he is back at his old firm writing copy for deodorant ads. Grimly comic - and again, written from Orwell's own experience, this time of living in the London slums - KEEP THE ASPIDISTRA FLYING is a still-relevant commentary on society's subservience to 'the Money God' and an affirmation of the power of human relationships to survive in spite of it.In COMING UP FOR AIR, George Bowling, married, mortgaged and middle aged, deals with his mid-life crisis by forsaking dull suburbia for a rural idyll. But the fondly remembered village of his childhood has been transformed by the very 'Progress' he seeks to escape: the estate where he used to fish has been built over; the pond turned into a rubbish dump. An old girlfriend fails to recognize him, and she herself is shockingly ravaged by time. Written in 1938-9, COMING UP FOR AIR is permeated with nostalgia for the England of a more tranquil age - before industrialization and capitalism had done their worst - and overshadowed by premonitions of what is to come - 'the war and the after-war, Hitler, Stalin, bombs, machine-guns, food-queues, rubber truncheons'. Above all, it unsparingly confronts the failure of youthful dreams and the impossibility of ever reclaiming the past.

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Burmese Days, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Coming Up for Air + Essays (Everyman's Library classics) + 1984 Nineteen Eighty-Four
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 677 pages
  • Publisher: Everyman (25 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841593354
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841593357
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 3.7 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 155,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

George Orwell is one of England's most famous writers and social commentators. Among his works are the classic political satire Animal Farm and the dystopian nightmare vision Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell was also a prolific essayist, and it is for these works that he was perhaps best known during his lifetime. They include Why I Write and Politics and the English Language. His writing is at once insightful, poignant and entertaining, and continues to be read widely all over the world.

Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell) was born in 1903 in India, where his father worked for the Civil Service. The family moved to England in 1907 and in 1917 Orwell entered Eton, where he contributed regularly to the various college magazines. From 1922 to 1927 he served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, an experience that inspired his first novel, Burmese Days (1934). Several years of poverty followed. He lived in Paris for two years before returning to England, where he worked successively as a private tutor, schoolteacher and bookshop assistant, and contributed reviews and articles to a number of periodicals. Down and Out in Paris and London was published in 1933. In 1936 he was commissioned by Victor Gollancz to visit areas of mass unemployment in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) is a powerful description of the poverty he saw there.

At the end of 1936 Orwell went to Spain to fight for the Republicans and was wounded. Homage to Catalonia is his account of the civil war. He was admitted to a sanatorium in 1938 and from then on was never fully fit. He spent six months in Morocco and there wrote Coming Up for Air. During the Second World War he served in the Home Guard and worked for the BBC Eastern Service from 1941 to 1943. As literary editor of the Tribune he contributed a regular page of political and literary commentary, and he also wrote for the Observer and later for the Manchester Evening News. His unique political allegory, Animal Farm was published in 1945, and it was this novel, together with Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which brought him world-wide fame.

It was around this time that Orwell's unique political allegory Animal Farm (1945) was published. The novel is recognised as a classic of modern political satire and is simultaneously an engaging story and convincing allegory. It was this novel, together with Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which finally brought him world-wide fame. Nineteen Eighty-Four's ominous depiction of a repressive, totalitarian regime shocked contemporary readers, but ensures that the book remains perhaps the preeminent dystopian novel of modern literature.

Orwell's fiercely moral writing has consistently struck a chord with each passing generation. The intense honesty and insight of his essays and non-fiction made Orwell one of the foremost social commentators of his age. Added to this, his ability to construct elaborately imaginative fictional worlds, which he imbued with this acute sense of morality, has undoubtedly assured his contemporary and future relevance.

George Orwell died in London in January 1950.

Product Description

Book Description

Three key novels from the 1930s by the author who later became world-famous for his political satires, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

About the Author

George Orwell (1903-1950) served with the Imperial Police in Burma, fought with the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, and was a member of the Home Guard and a writer for the BBC during World War II. He is the author of some of the most celebrated works of non-fiction and fiction in the English language.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Orwell's four great novels 23 July 2004
By Anthony Lynas VINE VOICE
That the imagery and language of 1984 have become so indelibly printed on the minds of modern society should be enough on its own to make people investigate Orwell's other novels. Sadly, this isn't the case so most people miss out on the joys of the greatest English writer of the 20th Century.
Burmese Days is Orwell's homage to the Raj, if you like; a caustic look at the miserable and meaningless existence of ex-pats in the dying days of the Empire. Like all Orwell's writing, it is informed by his own personal experiences. He also writes with a clarity and simplicity that means his images and meanings are never in doubt.
Ultimately, Burmese Days is a tragedy and there is scant little hope or jollity to be found anywhere in it, but this doesn't detract from a wholly engaging read. Like Homage to Catalonia, Orwell's great work about the Spanish Civil War, you are left understanding what life was like for the writer in his days in the service of the Crown. As with all Orwell's novels except, ironically, 1984, the author's humanist tendencies shine through, meaning you feel sympathy and empathy with everyone in the book; Orwell is not helping you to understand the processes of life, rather their impact, in the hope that you can do something about it.
Just so you know, the four Orwell novels everyone should read are 1984, Animal Farm, Coming up for Air and Burmese Days (in that order), and everyone should also read Homage to Catalonia and The Road to Wigan Pier as well. His essays are equally wonderful and the most startling thing about all his writing is how relevant its themes and observations still are 60 or 70 years on.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Burmese Days 3 Oct 2010
Burmese Days is an extremely readable novel dealing with life in the British Empire. As a former history student of this subject, I would argue that Orwell, writing from his own experiences, provides an insightful and interesting account of the mechanics of British imperial rule in the Raj - particularly regarding the use of subordinates, and the importance of prestige and 'keeping the British end up'. His treatment of Dr. Veraswami and the perceptions of him by the white members of the club (particularly the vulgar Ellis) recalls typical British attitudes towards 'anglicised' Indians - which, paradoxically given the rhetoric of 'civilising force', was often one of disdain. Indeed Orwell's views about the Empire are amply expounded by his main character 'Flory', in who's resentment and disillusionment - coupled with powerlessness - I could see Winston (from 1984), but found him ultimately to be more likeable.

For the less historically-minded, Burmese Days is extremely well written, and Orwell is able to describe vividly the Burmese setting for his plot. Clearly Orwell feels the same way about Burma as his main character, expressing a love-hate relationship which existed for English ex-pats there and, no doubt, all across the Empire. In his other characters he presents a damning view of the charade of European society in far-flung corners of the world, and his emotive treatment of Flory's love for Miss Lackersteen, despite all her flaws, resonates with the reader. At about only 300 pages, Burmese Days is a very pleasant read that can be completed in a day or two, highly recommended.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orwell's forgotten masterpiece 22 Jun 2002
A work of power and depth which deserves to rank up there with Animal Farm and 1984. Orwell delivers such a wonderful character study of Flory that I cannot believe it is not based at least partly on himself. He writes passages which are so striking in their insight into the human condition that they stay in your brain forever. If the ending does not leave you moved, you're made of stone.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good read, strange errors 6 Mar 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed the book, it's an easy read but quite sickening in its description of the unpleasantness of British colonialism. Orwell makes virtually all the characters unpleasant and narrow-minded, and it's difficult to sympathise with even the main protagonist.

The Kindle version though is quite good but there are some weird errors. Did they digitise it with some OCR software? It keeps saying "mere" where "there" was intended, and particularly strange was the use of "tiling" instead of "thing". While the book isn't particularly expensive, proof reading would undoubtedly have caught these, so it gets a bit irritating.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Like most of Orwell's novels, 'Burmese Days' is principally about social alienation, here against the backdrop of a remote jungle outpost of the British empire in the 1920s. The book is steeped in the atmosphere of the country in which it is set, the oppressive climate, the colour of the jungle and the native population, the repulsively racist and materialistic circle of English businessmen and colonial administrators among whom Flory, the main character, socializes at the 'European Club'.
You get the impression that Flory is actually the same misanthropic ineffectual character that appears in all Orwell's novels (a portrait of Orwell himself presumably), although in 'Burmese Days' he is in his formative stage, reluctant to take a confrontational stand against the colonialist attitudes which surround him.
The novel is half satire, half tragedy, and catches the contrast between the beauty of the tropical backdrop and the moral ugliness which pervades the existence of most of the characters, Burmese and Europeans alike. Totally captivating, this book left me unable to shake off the stifling atmosphere it evoked for days. Always the sign of good writing...
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly written.
An all time classic. Brilliantly written.
Published 18 days ago by Sarah A
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid tale of bye gone Burma
Orwell's mastery of language paints a vivid picture of an uncomfortable truth in a challenging place. Read more
Published 21 days ago by KerryH
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Brilliant thank you!
Published 25 days ago by Simon
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
not very interesting
Published 1 month ago by Glennn
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A very good read
Published 1 month ago by Mr. Peter J. Cave
5.0 out of 5 stars His First Novel
This, Orwell’s first novel, shows us what life was like in the latter years of the British Raj, when the rot had certainly set in. Read more
Published 2 months ago by M. Dowden
5.0 out of 5 stars I like all the books written by George Orwell but when ...
I like all the books written by George Orwell but when I read this book I absolutely loved it. This book was written well ahead of its time and shows the prejudicial attitude of... Read more
Published 3 months ago by R.K.
5.0 out of 5 stars A dull title for a very good book
Orwell posits that there is a very short period in everyone's life when one's character is fixed forever. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Officer Dibble
4.0 out of 5 stars White Men Gone to Seed
“Burmese Days” is the first novel by George Orwell and is partly autobiographical. It is based upon Orwell's own experiences as an officer in the Indian Imperial Police between... Read more
Published 4 months ago by J C E Hitchcock
4.0 out of 5 stars Shocking account of Colonial Life.
Recommended to me by my sister in law when she heard I was visiting Myanmar. It is always interesting to read novels set in the countries one is visiting or indeed has visited. Read more
Published 6 months ago by LindyLouMac
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