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The Lizard Cage [Paperback]

Karen Connelly
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 6 2007
Set during Burma's military dictatorship of the mid—1990s, Karen Connelly’s exquisitely written and harshly realistic debut novel is a hymn to human resilience and love.

In the sealed-off world of a vast Burmese prison known as the cage, Teza languishes in solitary confinement seven years into a twenty-year sentence. Arrested in 1988 for his involvement in mass protests, he is the nation’s most celebrated songwriter whose resonant words and powerful voice pose an ongoing threat to the state. Forced to catch lizards to supplement his meager rations, Teza finds emotional and spiritual sustenance through memories and Buddhist meditation. The tiniest creatures and things–a burrowing ant, a copper-coloured spider, a fragment of newspaper within a cheroot filter–help to connect him to life beyond the prison walls.

Even in isolation, Teza has a profound influence on the people around him. His integrity and humour inspire Chit Naing, the senior jailer, to find the courage to follow his conscience despite the serious risks involved, while Teza’s very existence challenges the brutal authority of the junior jailer, perversely nicknamed Handsome. Sein Yun, a gem smuggler and prison fixer, is his most steady human contact, who finds delight in taking advantage of Teza by cleverly tempting him into Handsome's web with the most dangerous contraband of all: pen and paper.

Lastly, there's Little Brother, an orphan raised in the jail, imprisoned by his own deprivation. Making his home in a tiny, corrugated-metal shack, Little Brother stays alive by killing rats and selling them to the inmates. As the political prisoner and the young boy forge a cautious friendship, we learn that both are prisoners of different orders; only one of them dreams of escape and only one of them achieves it.

Barely able to speak, losing the battle of the flesh but winning the battle of the spirit, Teza knows he has the power to transfigure one small life, and to send a message of hope and resistance out of the cage.

Shortlisted for both the Kiriyama Prize for Fiction and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, The Lizard Cage has received rave reviews nationally and internationally.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


National bestseller
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.”
NOW (Toronto)

“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.”
National Post

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.”
Edmonton Journal

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."
—Timothy Findley

"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."
—Christopher Wiseman

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Customer Reviews

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An utterly brilliant novel and a brave new world Feb. 17 2006
By A Customer
This is an extraordinary novel. A page turner, a mystery, an exploration of human evil and human goodness, I can't believe this book did not win a huge prize. Maybe it will! Set in dictatorship-ruled Burma, it tells the story of several people in a prison--a political prisoner, a sympathetic jailer and his nemesis, a little boy who is a child labourer and who becomes the political prisoner's dear friend. Easily on par with the Kite Runner--and also on par with the great prison books, like Papillon and The First Circle.
It should be read by anyone who cares about the big issues like freedom of speech, compassion, betrayal, love. Everyone! I'm buying this excellent novel for all my friends. (Okay, not all, but a few!)
It's the best book I've read in a long time. The tension at the end is absolutely unbearable, but Connelly pulls it off with grace and elegance. How some white woman from Alberta could write a book about an Asian man in a prison is in itself a mystery. That she does it so well is an act of bravery and profound artistry.
Read it, and you will be amazed, delighted, saddened, and profoundly moved.
Be prepared to enter a world unlike any other place you have ever experienced.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lizard's Heartbeat Nov. 17 2006
A work of profound beauty amidst torture, pain and despair! Not an easy accomplishment, but Ms. Connelly manages to accomplish the task with a sense of ease. The story tells of the final chapter in the life of a young political prisoner Teza, who is able to transcend the horrific abuse and treatment of the militant prison officials. The setting is harsh with the Teak Coffin, abusive guards, un-sanitary conditions, and yet the addition of tiny lizards, also trapped, takes the edge off of the bleakness, and allows for Teza's inner compassion for all creatures to shine.

Photographs of everyday Burmese citizens allow for faces to be juxtaposed onto the characters, and this allowed for me to imagine the lives of the singer, his family, the prison officials and the young boy who he protects and eventually rescues and sets free. The plight of the Burmese people resonates brightly within the pages of this book and should be on everyone's "To Read" list.

It has moved me in ways I never imagined possible and has become the favoured book of the year. Take a journey to a far away land and come home feeling enriched for having been introduced to someone as memorable and insightful as beloved TEZA
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting July 25 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Violent in the beginning but very realistic. It makes you think. You can not be insensitive to what the Birman people have to suffer in their own country from their own people. But, there is hope for a better world.
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