“U Po Kyin, Subdivisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, in Upper Burma, was sitting in his veranda.”
George Orwell like Aldous Huxley is a victim of his own success. He’s most widely known for his novels 1984 and Animal Farm, but like Huxley he also wrote several other novels and a lot of nonfiction. I would say that Down and Out in London and Paris is a truly weird and wonderful book, and Homage to Catalonia is incredibly important. Burmese Days is not either really, but it is really interesting in a lot of ways.
A lot of British novelists, especially those who in worked in foreign service like Orwell wrote about their experience, and the honest ones like Orwell, Conrad, and Anthony Burgess, were left with some uncomfortable to violent reactions to that service. Orwell’s stand-in character here, John Flory, thinks of himself as very anti-British and anti-British Empire, and in some ways he is. But in other ways, he’s mostly just annoyed at the other British people he’s with at most times (given the limited number of them ultimately in Burma) and tries to use that annoyance as a point of sanctimony. He doesn’t really treat the Burmese any better, and in some ways he treats them far worse.
The plot in the novel centers around John Flory and what he might do with himself in the near future. But it also involves the question of whether or not the last all-white British social club will open its door to one non-British member, and if so, who? The two main contenders are a kind of friend of Flory’s (who Flory mostly uses in capacity of cipher and recipient for his anti-colonial tirades) and this man’s rival, a demimonde controller who would very much like that spot. And of course, once things mostly reserved for white people gets endangered, white people get violent. At its best, this novel employs Orwell self-deprecatory and ironic critique of liberalism (sanctimonious and self-serving, even and especially when right, but also weak-willed and toothless in its morality). At it’s worse, it’s as racist and dehumanizing as the subjects of its critique. So it’s like a lot of early anti-colonial British novels in that way.