Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Friday, January 26, 2007

"The Burmese do not sag and bulge like white men, but grow fat symmetrically, like fruits swelling."

I depart for Burma (Myanmar) in a couple of weeks so I've begun reading George Orwell's 1934 book, Burmese Days. No one writes like Orwell anymore. Check out the first two paragraphs of his book:
"U Po Kyin, Subdivisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, in Upper Burma, was sitting in his veranda. It was only half-past eight, but the month was April, and there was a closeness in the air, a threat of the long, stifling midday hours. Occasional faint breaths of wind, seeming cool by contrast, stirred the newly-drenched orchids that hung from the eaves. Beyond the orchids one could see the dusty, curved trunk of a palm tree, and then the blazing ultramarine sky. Up in the zenith, so high that it dazzled one to look at them, a few vultures circled without the quiver of a wing.

"Unblinking, rather like a great porcelain idol, U Po Kyin gazed out into the fierce sunlight. He was a man of fifty, so fat that for years he had not risen from his chair without help, and yet shapely and even beautiful in his grossness; for the Burmese do not sag and bulge like white men, but grow fat symmetrically, like fruits swelling. His face was vast, yellow and quite unwrinkled, and his eyes were tawny. His feet---squat, high-arched feet with the toes all the same length---were bare, and so was his cropped head, and he wore one of those vivid Arakanese longyis with green and magenta checks which the Burmese wear on informal occasions. He was chewing betel from a lacquered box on the table, and thinking about his past life."
It seems like everyone today writes with loads more forced, adverb-y bullshit but whenever I pick up a book from 50 or more years ago, the effortless simplicity blows me away in its ability to convey an image, mood or setting.
I haven't read much Orwell, but what I have read was quick reading (kind of like Richard Wright). Good luck in Burma and I can tell you a contemporary writer that I enjoy is Russell Banks.
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