Paperback Choice: Spring
Robert Pearce looks at a selection of the season’s titles newly out in paperback.
Everywhere you go in Burma, you see people reading, though they sometimes have to hire a book or magazine by the hour. In Mandalay, the enviable Aye Myint retired from the world in his early twenties and spent forty years ‘sequestered in his library’ of over a thousand books, each carefully wrapped in a plastic bag to protect it from mould and the deprivations of white ants. He showed three volumes with especial pride to a foreign visitor: the ‘Burmese books’ of George Orwell – Burmese Days, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
If readers of Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop by Emma Larkin (John Murray, £7.99) at first baulk at the description of the latter two volumes, they will soon be convinced that ‘The Prophet’ predicted the history of Burma with uncanny accuracy. For over forty years Burma has been ruled by the equivalent of Animal Farm’s pigs and dogs, though the military call themselves the ‘State Peace and Development Council’. It is a country where history is constantly being rewritten, though its real historians are all non-persons, and where Insein Prison can double-up as Room 101. It is also a country, as Larkin reminds us, which saw the brutal slaughter of over 3,000 Burmese in the People’s Uprising of 1988. In the phrase of one of her brave informants, it is ‘a country of fifty million hostages’.