Jonathan Mirsky

A Subversive Infusion

Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop

By

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Burma is a terrible place, and Emma Larkin writes beautifully about it. Here is an example: Larkin, a Burmese speaker and a frequent visitor to Burma (or Myanmar, as it is now called), is taking tea with four genteel elderly Anglo-Burmese ladies left behind by the Empire. The chipped tea things are relics of another time. The women can barely mention how awful life is for them in a police state where it is especially awful to have English blood. Larkin mentions Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize-winning champion of Burmese freedom. ‘Nobody said anything. The pinch-faced woman’s eyes followed the lilies around the rim of her teacup. Beatrice busied herself with folding up a napkin. After a painfully long silence I reached for a piece of peanut brittle and commented on how delicious it was.’ An acutely observed passage that says a lot about an oppressive police state.

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