Top positive review
Description of Orwell's formative years as a writer
25 March 2018
Very interesting book about Eric Blair's 5 years working as a military policeman in Burma, which changed his outlook from that of a privileged ex-Eton schoolboy at the start of his tenure to that of George Orwell, the "wintry conscience of a generation" as Jeffrey Meyers (I think) termed him, by the end. EB clearly didn't relate well to his contemporaries, & was seen as a "loner" (albeit one who picked up the local languages very well) pretty much from the word go. This probably explains why he was sent for c 2 years to the difficult, violent, uncomfortable, mosquito ridden Delta region. The author, who assiduously tracks EB's progress up & down Burma (one wonders how, even as a Burmese speaker herself, she was able to get to some of these very remote places !) spends most of the book describing the restrictions of life in modern-day Burma, & trying to show (not always 100% sucessfully) how events depicted in "Animal Farm" & "1984" also relate to life today in the country. The most interesting chapter in the book is the one about EB's last posting in Katha (the model for Kyauktada in "Burmese Days"), where the author spends a lot of time identifying the Clubhouse & other buildings depicted in the novel. It is a pity that she was unable to identify at least some of the people who were the basis for the numerous truly ghastly characters in "Burmese Days" (which, despite it's well-known "gloomy" reputation, is my favourite Orwell book !) - such as the violently racist timber merchant Ellis, the "club bore" (although in other respects harmless) MacGregor, the self-centred Lieutenant the Hon Verrall, & (above all) the selfish, cold-heartedly opportunistic Elizabeth Lackersteen. However, given the depth of the author's research in the rest of the book, no doubt she would have shed more light on the background to these characters had it been possible to do so. What is very interesting towards the end of the book is a synopsis of the novella set in Burma "A Smoking Room Story", which Orwell was beginning to work on at the end of his extraordinarily varied, but tragically short life.