The Lizard Cage – by Karen Connelly

by SK

I found this to be an amazing read. I got to the end – crouched and anxious – and went straight back to read the beginning again.

Teza is a political prisoner in solitary confinement during Burma’s turmoil of the mid-1990s. He gleans scraps of information about the outside world wherever he can and remains dignified through Buddhist patience and by upholding the precepts. Before his imprisonment, Teza used anti-dictatorship songs to influence those around him; while in the cage he continues to inspire those who come near him with his forbearance.

Connelly’s vivid, lyrical writing is riveting. Having spent some time in Burma (Myanmar) she is able to give the real and gruesome details of the harrowing setting, but her language maintains beauty.

“Little Brother” the young boy Teza befriends serves as both a symbol of hope and a tragic illustration of the lowliness of prison-life and a people who have lost control.

This is an inspiring look into what it means to be free and how vital it is to make human connections. Teza’s ritual dissection of the cheroot cigars reinforces this again through the importance of words:

“After eating and meditating, the cheroot ceremony is the most important event in his life. It is a challenge to perform it well. To peel the filters apart slowly enough is an act of discipline.

The filters are made with rigid, dried straw. Holding the filters tight is a band of newspaper.

Words.”

He takes the scraps of writing and lines them up, creating a story for himself. It is a contraband pen that causes the most violent and distressing events for Teza and Little Brother, but before this, reading the pieces of newspaper, Teza realises

“As long as there is paper, people will write, secretly, in small rooms, in the hidden chambers of their minds, just as people whisper the words they’re forbidden to speak aloud. The generals can’t stop them. Ne Win himself can’t stop them. He never could. Words are like the ants. They work their way through the thickest walls, eating through bricks and feeding off the very silence intended to stifle them.”

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