THE LIZARD CAGE
Doubleday/Nan A. Talese 2007
Harvill and Secker, Britain 2007
Buchet-Chastel, France 2007
Querido, Holland, 2006
Frassinelli, Italy, 2006
Winner of Britain’s Orange Broadband Prize for New Writers 2007
Shortlisted for the U.S. Kiriyama Prize 2006
Longlisted for the Impac Dublin Award 2006
In her long-awaited first novel, Karen Connelly recreates the world of a Burmese prison, and of the country’s tumultuous years in the late 1980’s, when millions of people rose up to protest against the brutality of their military government. This is a story of human resilience, love and humour — a potent act of empathy and witness.
Inside his solitary confinement cell, Teza, who once electrified the people of Burma with his protest songs against the dictatorship, now applies his acute intelligence and Buddhist patience to finding meaning in the interminable days. Arrested by the Burmese secret police, cut off from his family for the first seven years of a twenty-year sentence, he searches for news and human connection in every object and being that is grudgingly allowed into his cell.
Despite his isolation, Teza has a profound influence on the people around him. His integrity and humour inspire the conscience-ridden senior jailer to radical change. His very existence challenges the brutal authority of the junior jailer, perversely nicknamed Handsome. Even though his server, the criminal Sein Yun, sees compromising Teza as his ticket out of jail, the singer befriends him, and falls into a trap of forbidden food, conversation, and the most dangerous contraband of all, pen and paper.
Lastly there’s Little Brother, an orphan who’s grown up inside the jail, imprisoned by his own deprivation. Teza and the boy are prisoners of different orders, but their extraordinary friendship frees both of them in utterly surprising ways. Overturning our expectations, Karen Connelly presents us with a world that celebrates human spirit, and spirit itself, in the midst of injustice and violence.