Fight to save Orwell’s Burma house

Updated 14 September 2013
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Fight to save Orwell’s Burma house

Cobwebs cover its furniture and its rooms are long deserted, but a crumbling house in northern Myanmar is at the center of a conservation battle by locals who say it was once home to George Orwell.
The remote trading post of Katha on the banks of the Irrawaddy — and the house lived in by Orwell in the 1920s — were immortalized in the acclaimed British author’s first novel, “Burmese Days.”
Decades later, as the country emerges from nearly half a century of harsh military rule, a group of artists has launched a campaign to protect the legacy of one of literature’s most scathing critics of dictatorship.
“I am trying to do what I can to restore all the buildings in the book and to attract attention to the country and to the town,” said artist and Orwell fan Nyo Ko Naing.
The two-story house stands abandoned in an overgrown tropical garden in the remote town which lies about 250 kilometers — or a 13-hour train ride — north of Mandalay.
The campaigners want the home and nearby European country club turned into a museum, in a country where many colonial-era buildings have already fallen victim to the wrecking ball as investors flock to what they hope will be the region’s next hottest economy. A young Orwell, then known as Eric Blair, arrived in Burma — now called Myanmar — in 1922 and stayed for five years, working as a policeman in the country, which was under British rule at the time.
In the novel, Katha is called Kyauktada, but everything else is the same.
“The Tennis Court, British Club, jail, the police station and the military cemetery are in the book and really exist in the town.” said Nyo Ko Naing.
The wooden and brick house has been empty for 16 years.
Some old pot plants have withered and died and the upstairs balconies are too unstable to stand on. The empty rooms echo with Nyo Ko Naing’s footsteps, which leave prints in the dust that has built up over the years.
“Orwell took many raw materials for his book ‘Burmese Days’ from here,” Nyo Ko Naing said. “I think this house and all the other places in Orwell’s book should be turned into a museum.”
“Burmese Days” is a scathing critique of British colonial rule, with the European characters’ constant drinking and poor treatment of the Burmese locals a running theme.
The Burmese characters also come in for harsh criticism, with the magistrate portrayed as scheming, obese and corrupt.
Myanmar is now opening up and over the past couple of years more and more tourists have come to Katha, on the trail of Orwell.
“The country is open now. It is no longer isolated,” said Oo Khinmaung Lwin, the headmaster of the local school. “I will teach my students so that they know more about George Orwell.”
Although long thought to be Orwell’s home, there is some doubt whether a policeman would have lived in such a grand house.
Across the road from the house lies the tennis court, and beyond that the European club.


Keira Knightley film calls for unity in divided times

Updated 19 February 2019
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Keira Knightley film calls for unity in divided times

  • The film is set during the reconstruction of post WWII Germany
  • The port city of Hamburg suffered a devastating bombing raid by the Allied forces in July 1943

LONDON: Keira Knightley said her new film “The Aftermath,” set in the bombed-out ruins of Hamburg just after the end of the Second World War, had important lessons on building bridges that were very relevant for today’s divided societies.
The romantic drama sees Knightley play Rachael Morgan, who moves to Germany to be with her husband, a British colonel who has a leading role in the reconstruction effort in Hamburg. They move in with a German widower and his troubled daughter.
Her co-stars, Australian Jason Clarke who plays her husband Lewis and Swedish Alexander Skarsgard, who plays a German architect also attended the world premiere at London’s Picturehouse Central on Monday.
“It’s very relevant for now. It’s about building bridges, it’s about how we see each other as human beings and we don’t demonize each other and that’s obviously something that we need to do right now,” Knightley said.
The port city of Hamburg suffered a devastating bombing raid by the Allied forces in July 1943, known as “Operation Gomorrah,” that killed some 40,000 people and caused the destruction of swathes of the city.
“I knew nothing about the rebuilding of Germany ... I haven’t thought about how unbelievably difficult it must have been to not only physically rebuild these places but also mentally for English and German people ... who had been enemies, who had literally killed each other for six years, to suddenly forgive and move forward,” Knightley said.
Clarke said: “We’ve benefited so much from the Lewis Morgans who put Europe together ... guys like him built it up and made Germany and Europe what it is today, we all stand on the threshold of wanting to tear it down.”
“The Aftermath” opens in cinemas in Britain on March 1, and in the United States on March 15.