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The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly

The Lizard Cage by Karen ConnellyThe brutal and authoritarian military dictatorship of Burma, perhaps receives less than its fair share of column inches in the international media, possibly losing out to more recent conflicts. I think it is also fair to say that many national governments have a vested interest in deflecting attention, as over the years they are the ones responsible for supplying the Burmese government with the weapons to cruelly repress its own people.

The more exposure and publicity the Burmese situation receives, the better the chances of achieving the freedom and democracy that the country’s people deserve. Karen Connelly’s extensive travels in Burma and its surrounding regions have amply equipped her to write a compelling and at times heartbreaking story in The Lizard Cage, which tells of one man’s imprisonment and solitary confinement in the extremely violent and harsh Burmese prison system.

Karen Connelly won the Orange Award for New Writers in 2007 for The Lizard Cage.

Read on for a full review….

-- The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly a Review by Des Greene --
Teza, the principal character of The Lizard Cage is seven years into a twenty year sentence of solitary confinement. His crime, nothing more than being a popular and renowned singer of protest songs.  The spiders, insects and lizards that visit his cage provide some of the few diversions to the sensory deprivation of his incarceration. The lizards, to the shame of his Buddhist beliefs, also provide an additional source of protein over and above the meagre prison rations.

Teza gains the sympathy of a prison guard whose conscience has become increasingly troubled by the cruel regime, and also the friendship of a young boy ‘Little Brother’ who is growing up as an orphan within the prison walls. In small ways, but at great personal danger, they try to help Teza and alleviate his suffering as best they can. Teza’s enemies, chief of whom is ‘Handsome’ one of the senior gaolers, conspire to find a way of increasing his sentence as he is still viewed as a political threat. It is this conflict between good and evil which forms the framework of the plot and also provides a metaphor for the broader struggles in Burma as a whole.

Although The Lizard Cage has been criticised by certain reviewers for the clumsy delivery of some of its messages, I personally think that Connelly has done an excellent job of balancing the story against the need to expose and educate. This is never an easy task, but I found the characters to be well portrayed and elicited my sympathy or dislike as befitted their role in the story. I also found that Connelly’s background as a poet led to some beautiful descriptive passages, and also lent a lot to the overall tone of the book.

Not everything works well however, and I do find the practise of repeatedly writing simple phrases in English as well as in the local tongue to be just a little annoying. This is just a minor criticism and doesn’t really detract from the book. After a time I just found myself ignoring it.

In summary, an exciting, interesting, at times informative but also desperately sad novel. Overall though, I would have to say that it was an uplifting experience to read this book simply for the way in which it illustrates what the human spirit can overcome. Highly recommended.

Already read The Lizard Cage? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.

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