Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop by Emma Larkin - review by Jonathan Mirsky

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.

I have read several books lately that each purported to be on subjects about which the author turned out to have next to no material, and whose titles had no connection to the texts. I feared this might be true of Secret Histories - there is little in Burma nowadays

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