Jill's Reviews > The Lizard Cage

The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly
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May 13, 11

bookshelves: all-time-favorites
Read from May 08 to 13, 2011

Every now and then, I read a book that I just want to grab the next person I see and say, “You MUST read this.” The Lizard Cage is one of those books. It is lyrical, poignant, astonishing, at times shocking, and ultimately, unforgettable. It is that rare book with a solid humanitarian plea at its center that never, ever slips into pedanticism or manipulation.

The carefully constructed plot hinges on two prisoners – one who is behind the bars of a cage and the other who is constrained by his own spiritual bars. The first is Teza, a “songbird”, a man who has been wrongfully imprisoned by the Burmese government for singing songs that they deemed revolutionary. The other is his self-appointed “little brother”, a nameless boy who goes by the name of his faded t-shirt, which reads, “Free El Salvador.” Only 12 years old, the boy has taken refuge in the prison where he scrounges for food and is unable to leave.

These two broken souls – Burmese political prisoner and broken orphan boy -- find each other within this place of horror. At times, their friendship is enabled by the senior jailer Chit Naing, one of the more complex characters in fiction, truly a duck out of water. The junior jailer, known as Handsome, is a sadist who thrives on working out his own childhood demons by the torture and abuse of others.

There is much in this book about man’s inhumanity to man. Witness Teza’s musings: “When you make love, you begin the world with another person; two small gods build the first kingdom out of the body’s clay…But when a man beats you in the cage, he wants you to know he’s got the whole substance of you in his hands, your life and your death.” There is also much about how the spirit triumphs and kindness prevails even in the most brutal of places.

And there’s much about how even the most physically run-down and broken person can achieve inner freedom when he is true to his core, in this case, the Buddhist principles. Again, Teza: “The Buddha taught us that things change over time…Even if people or things look the same, they’re always shifting or growing or dying. Nothing keeps the same for any of us. So we try to have upekkha, to live with upekkaha. That means to accept the change that comes and be calm in it.”

But perhaps most, this is a book about how the power of the written or spoken word are both powerful weapons against oppression anywhere. There is a strong subplot about pen and paper contraband, and the lengths that the jailers go to eliminate it. The pen is, indeed, mightier than the sword.

I love this book. I love its complex characters, its poetic language, its plots and themes, and particularly its faith in humanity at a time when that faith is waning. It’s an important and courageous book, a book for our time and all time.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Julie (new)

Julie Beautiful review, Jill. Thank you so much for the recommendation- I'm looking forward to this!


message 2: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne Wonderful review! I'd love to read this one!


Jill Julie and Suzanne -- I hadn't even HEARD about this book until a book friend recommended it. And once I started it, I just couldn't put it down. Highly recommended!


message 4: by Teresa (new) - added it

Teresa Lukey I have this in my TBR, I'll have to pull it out sooner rather than later.


message 5: by Mc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mc Glass I am in it now..Karen Connelly's wise insights make me stop and write them down so I won't forget them. Thanks Jill for your Buddha quote on upekkha *


Jill To accept the change that comes...wise insights, indeed. I absolutely loved this wonderful book.


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