Jul 05, 10
Read from June 23 to July 01, 2010
This is an intriguing and compelling idea for a story. It is mainly about a political prisoner in Burma and the people he has an effect on. I think the author was trying too hard for "literary" (and missed) to turn the idea into something that readers would engage with. As it is, it doesn't have the "oomph" necessary to induce reader action against what is portrayed as a corrupt and dangerous Burmese government.
I found the beginning chapter and the middle through the end of the book to be the parts that most engaged me. However, I wanted to stop reading around chapter 3 because it didn't seem to be going anywhere.
The story is set up like it is in media res, or perhaps a story in a story. I think Connelly knew she had a boring story by starting with the prisoner in his cell, so she moved the end of the story to the beginning. This is what kept me reading through the first several chapters. However, they didn't seem to be related until near the middle of the book. And even then, I anticipated that the story would continue past that beginning and give some resolution. It never did. And so, it left me feeling a bit empty and disappointed at the end - not because of the story but because of my unmet expectations. Now, in the literary genre, this would be an acceptable kind of ending (although I think still unacceptable because of the expectations set up in the structure). However, the writing was not nearly good enough for that genre. There were moments of great writing and description, but it was not sustained throughout. In fact, through most of the second half of the book, it did not read as literary at all. Interestingly, it was the author's leaving off with all the literary attempts that made the second half enjoyable and compelling.
Setting: This is set mainly in a prison in Burma. Mostly, it is within a single prison cell. However, it does spread out a bit from that in flashbacks and when other characters have the point of view. This book is supposed to be based on actual events and people, with this prison being an amalgamation of several prisons, so it feels a bit generic as a result. I got a sense of the setting in the one cell, but the rest of the setting felt weak.
Conflict: The main conflict is the prisoner's acceptance of his fate and his forgiveness (such as it is) of those who have wronged him. There are other conflicts surrounding life in prison: subservience, rape, authority, power. These generally push the little boy toward his leaving of the prison and so felt more like plot devices than real.
Plot: I've already mentioned it briefly. But, it also has to do with the power of words and getting the words from the prisoner to those who would be most affected by them: those who would keeping fighting against the Burmese regime.
Characters: I think the author did a pretty good job of creating real, believable characters. I'm not sure who is "real" and who is a conglomeration of people and who is totally made up (since I haven't studied the history of Burma or know much about what is currently happening there), but I felt like the ones I got to be in the head of (those I got POV from) were real and complex people. I liked the dichotomy of the passivist deciding to take his own life (through starvation) because he didn't want to hate his tormentors (not real forgiveness there). I also liked the idea of a little child who grew up in a prison and why he did the things he did. I liked learning more about the ethical, nice guard and the decent, protective prisoners.
Text: Again, the attempts at literariness fell a bit short for me. The whole story lacked "color" in word choice and depth of meaning. But, on a high-level, it was a decent reading experience.