Orwell: Wintry Consciencenof a Generationnhy Jeffrey MeyersnNew York: W.W. Norton & Companv;n320 pp., $29.95nGeorge Orwell was born Eric ArthurnBlair in 1903 in Motihari, India,nwhere his father worked for the IndiannCivil Service as a sub-deputy opiumnagent in charge of manufacturing thennarcotic for transport to China. Hisnmother, the daughter of a French teaknmerchant and boatbuilder, had grown upnin a lavish colonial household in Bunna.nAncestors on both sides had made smallnfortunes in India and Jamaica by virtue ofncheap (and slave) labor.nIn short, the man who became GeorgenOrwell entered the world a beneficiar’ ofna corrupt and often ruthless imperialism.nHis parents never questioned the moralitynof this exploitation of the less fortunate.nNeither did Blair as a young man, whennhe still considered “Mandalay,” RudyardnKipling’s sentimental ode to the exoticnOrient, the best poem in the language.nAfter graduating from Eton, rather thanncontinuing his education at Oxford ornCambridge with his peers, he followed innGeorge McCarbiey teaches English andncreative writing at St. John’s Universit}’ innNew York City.nOPINIONSnBecoming George Orwellnby George McCartneyn”The best guesser is the best prophet.”nhis father’s footsteps, serving the BrihshnEmpire’s interests as an assistant superintendentnof police in Burma from 1922 ton1927.nFrom this morally compromised background,nBlair emerged as the “wintrynconscience of a generadon,” the epitaphnV.S. Pritchett bestowed on him —andnwhich Jeffrey Meyers has aptly chosen fornthe subtitle of his new and immenselynclarifying biography, Orwell. Pritchett’snphrase comes from the opening sentencesnof his obituar)’ for Orwell; he goesnon to identify the generation in questionnas the one that “in the thirties had heardnthe call to the rasher assumptions of politicalnfaith.” These “rasher assumphons”nwere the totalitarian siren songs of fascismnand communism to which so manynof Orwell’s contemporaries succumbednwhile he, despite his revolutionar)’ sympathies,nsteadfastly resisted. Like his con­nnn— Greek Proverbntemporary (and poliHcal opposite), EvelynnWaugh, Orwell knew these werenequally hideous. Even during WorldnWar II, when Russia allied with Englandnagainst Germany, he never shrank fromnproclaiming that both communism andnNazism threatened what mattered mostnin human life: liberty and decency. Althoughnhe called himself a socialist, Orwellnrefused to go along with others onnthe left who were willing to ovedook then”sins” of Soviet-style communism in ordernto combat the horrors of fascism.nOrwell’s stance provoked unusuallynstrong reactions, especially from thosenwho knew communism from the inside.nThey either revered or reviled him. Formerncommunist Arthur Koestler callednhim the “missing link between Kafka andnSwift.” In 1953, the Nobel Prize-winningnPolish poet Czeslaw Milosz reportednthat Orwell’s J 984 fascinated thenmembers of the Soviet Inner Party: Theyncould not fathom how an outsider hadngained such insight into daily life underntheir system. After the dissolution of thenSoviet Union, Russian philosopher GrigorinPomerantz also noted Orwell’s uncannyngrasp of conditions under communism.n”Orwell, who got his education atnEton and on the streets of colonial Burma,nunderstood the soul, or soullessness,nof our society better than anyone else.”nMarxists, on the other hand, have taken andifferent line. Wlien Animal Farm andn• J 984 first appeared, they were so flus-nlUNE 2001/25n