Paul Theroux on Orwell and Burma Sahib


Long before George Orwell wrote Animal Farm and 1984 — and long before he was even George Orwell — Eric Blair was a nineteen year old policeman in Burma serving the British Raj.

Biographies skirt over this five year period, in part due to the absence of letters and diaries, but it was the making of the writer he would become.

Today’s guest set out to imagine those years in a wonderful new novel called Burma Sahib.

Like Orwell, a five-year period abroad was the making of Paul Theroux. He became a writer during his time as a Peace Corps teacher in Malawi, and then a lecturer at Uganda’s Makerere University. 

A friend recommended Paul’s book The Happy Isles of Oceania to me 30 years ago, and I went on to read every one of them. They were a crucial influence on me as a young traveller and writer, and I’ve gotten enormous enjoyment from them as a reader.

He’s the author of some 33 works of fiction including The Mosquito Coast and The Bad Angel Brothers, and 19 travel books including The Great Railway Bazaar and Dark Star Safari, books that cemented his standing as our greatest living travel writer.

You can read more about him on his website, and follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

We spoke about George Orwell and Burma, of course. But this was also a conversation about reading and the life of a writer. I enjoyed it so much that we continued long after the recording stopped. I know you’ll enjoy it, too.

These are the books we mentioned in the podcast:

We also mentioned:

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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