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One of Orwell's four great novels
on 23 July 2004
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.