At age nineteen, young Eton graduate Eric Blair set sail for India, dreading the assignment ahead. Along with several other young conscripts, he would be trained for three years as a servant of the British Empire, overseeing the local policemen in Burma. Navigating the social, racial, and class politics of his fellow British at the same time as he learned the local languages and struggled to control his men would prove difficult enough. But doing all of this while grappling with his own self-worth, his sense that he was not cut out for this, is soon overwhelming for the young Blair. Eventually, his clashes with his superiors, and the drama that unfolds in this hot, beautiful land, will change him forever.
The Burma that he conjures in these pages is wonderfully present in lush and dense prose ... Theroux is now in his early 80s and this novel is one of his finest, in a long and redoubtable oeuvre. The talent is in remarkable shape.
The furious semaphoring and telegraphing are ultimately distracting, undermining a narrative that is otherwise propulsive and well-constructed. The thick descriptions of nature and male-point-of-view ogling will not be to everybody’s taste, but they do accord with tone and time, while the period detail and language hit the mark ... The examination of Blair’s divided self is intriguing, if heavy-handed. Mr. Theroux has done his research and, although he wears his learning gaudily, many readers will enjoy the bright display. But the frequent repetitions and hectoring tone are less forgivable.
Theroux brings to this story a sense of lived experience – he also came of age in the last knockings of the British empire ... By the time Theroux recasts these storied events, he has evoked a deeper understanding of the complicated life beyond their edges.