Burma Sahib

Mariner. Feb. 2024. 400p. ISBN 9780063297548. $30. F
This tightly focused novel relates how a young man, as yet unformed, gradually finds his own identity. In 1921, Eric Blair, 19 and newly hatched from Eton, sets sail for Burma on a posting to the Indian Imperial Police. There he will oversee native policemen—Burmese and Indian. From the start, his peers see Blair as an outsider. He feels like one too, alienated from them by height (his nickname is “Lofty”), bookishness, and latent humanitarianism. At every subsequent posting of Blair’s, something goes wrong and he’s shuffled off to the next posting to get rid of him. The crassness of his fellow Englishmen and their indifference toward local concerns affront him, driving him to writing as escape. Eventually, he returns to England, laid up by fever, and resigns. Succeeding in his new focus, the man renames himself George Orwell, and his experiences in Burma became background for an anticolonial novel, Burmese Days, and two of what will become his most famous essays, “A Hanging” and “Shooting an Elephant.”
VERDICT The prolific Theroux (The Mosquito Coast) has long been a expert writer of fiction and travel narratives, so this biographical historical novel, about the young adult life of the soon-to-be George Orwell, is a natural for him.
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