Burmese Days by George Orwell. Selected by Michael Fullilove.
My book of 2012 was first published in 1934. George Orwell's novel Burmese Days is a grim but vivid account of life in Burma in the 1920s and a powerful indictment of British colonialism.
The novel is based on Orwell's own service in Burma as an imperial policeman between 1922 and 1927. The chief protagonist is John Flory, a teak merchant operating out of an obscure settlement in northern Burma. Flory has been nearly ruined by his booze-sodden, wanton life in colonial Burma, but the arrival of a beautiful young Englishwoman offers him the hope of redemption.
As journalist Emma Larkin points out in her excellent introduction to my 2009 edition of Burmese Days, 'it is a curious twist of fate that Orwell's later novels have mirrored Burma's recent history. In Burma today, there is a joke that Orwell didn't write just one novel about the country, but three; a trilogy comprised of Burmese Days, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.'
Since the publication of this edition, however, Burma's national story has taken a remarkably positive turn, one that was not anticipated in any of Orwell's writings. Under the presidency of Thein Sein, the military regime has loosened its grip on the country. Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest and earlier this year her party scored a landslide victory in parliamentary by-elections. The future is uncertain but hopeful. George Orwell, I think, would be amazed and delighted.
I will be visiting Burma early in 2013 and I will post my own first-hand impressions of the country then.