From Publishers Weekly
Connelly won the Governor General's Award for Nonfiction with Dream of a Thousand Lives: A Sojourn in Thailand
, and her debut novel revisits Southeast Asia to soulful effect. Imprisoned in a mid-'90s Rangoon gulag, dissident singer/songwriter Teza stalks and eats the acrobatic lizards that venture across his cell's ceiling at sundown. Senior jailer Nyunt Wai Oo angles for a promotion by scheming to plant contraband writing materials inside the celebrated Teza's cage. The plot backfires when Teza inadvertently passes the proscribed ballpoint to the illiterate, resourceful serving boy, Nyi Lay, who hoards the pen for dear life. As the entire prison is shaken down and Teza and Nyi Lay are tortured nearly to death, a bond of brotherhood develops between the lowly Nyi Lay and Teza. The gangster inmate on the ward, Tan-see Tiger, who oversees an in-house smuggling operation, completes the triangle; he and Teza realize that the only measure of liberation left to them lies in making sure Nyi Lay leaves the prison camp alive. A brutal exposé with harrowing descriptions of prison life and heavily spiritual overtones, Connelly's novel combines a thrillerlike pace with finely etched portraits that show how each character takes control of his own freedom. (Mar.)
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Shortlisted for the 2006 International Kiriyama Prize
“A feat of epic vision…. The suspense never relents. Hope is small, but it lives, strengthened by this powerful book.”
–Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Fifth Book of Peace
“These are stories that need to be told.”
“By turns delights, surprises and shocks. But even when writing of some of the darkest depths to which humanity can sink, Connelly’s poet’s heart shines through.… The resiliency of the human spirit is the beacon that informs this work.”
“The Lizard Cage
is ridiculously and beautifully cinematic…. Connelly is an exacting writer. She burrows into scenes and surroundings and returns with startling imagery. There are great moments in the book, strung together like honed passages in a collection of poetry.”
–Quill & Quire
“Connelly’s writing is fluid and well-paced, and her fictive prison world, set in the actual political hellhole that is present-day Burma, is as affecting as any UN statistical report about the conditions of life in that ruined country.”
Praise for Karen Connelly:
"Karen Connelly has an enviable, somewhat disquieting ability to possess the spirit of a place. . . The unknown, the faraway, the endlessly strange spring to life in her work."
—Books in Canada
"Hers is an authentic voice, the voice of a born poet intoxicated by language."
—Atlantic Books Today
". . . a genius for framing the texture of daily life — the feel, the shape, the inner longing, the sounds — in language of sublime perfection."
—The Hamilton Spectator
"Touch the Dragon is a splendid evocation of a place and a people that remain, for most of us, in dreams. Few can record such dreams — but Karen Connelly has done so."
"Karen Connelly not only illuminates a society, but shows us, through the beauty, energy and humour of her language and imagery, how this strange place touched and changed her, allowing her to receive and understand a common humanity."