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The Lizard Cage

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  2,293 Ratings  ·  403 Reviews
Beautifully written and taking us into an exotic land, Karen Connelly’s debut novel The Lizard Cage is a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit.

Teza once electrified the people of Burma with his protest songs against the dictatorship. Arrested by the Burmese secret police in the days of mass protest, he is seven years into a twenty-year sentence in solitary conf
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published March 20th 2007 by Nan A. Talese (first published September 27th 2005)
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May 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 s
Aug 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I want to say to everyone please please read this's achingly beautiful an also brutal a compelling story that fills you with such love for the boy,a boy who is known by the logo on his t shirt who has nothing and for Teza,the songbird whose compassion made me humble and brought tears to my eyes many many times,the message of compassion and the teachings of Buddhism and the two broken souls makes it a book I could never forget.
Oct 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It's a sad book. What else could it be though? A cruel dictatorship, human rights violations, exploitation of a child and so on.. It shake me. I cried with Teza and the Little Brother. Also it makes you see the situation in Myanmar (Burma), a country rarely mentioned in global media. A difficult book but a definitely must-read
switterbug (Betsey)
Burmese politics, including their political prison system, is harrowing and vicious. Not a lot has changed in the past fifty years or so, other than changing the name to Myanmar. They remain under military rule and they are one of the least developed nations in the world. Karen Connelly has not only written a striking and engaging tour de force about this area, but she has brought a country's atrocities into focus that needs attention badly, and help from developed nations. However, she hasn't f ...more
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Laurie by: It was mentioned in "The End of Your Life Book Club"
More than halfway into this beautiful work of literature. I love it so much that I miss it when I'm not reading it..

That period in Burma's history was mostly unknown to me at the time. I traveled through the country rather extensively maybe around 2005 and loved its quiet beauty and haunting spirituality. We did experience a troupe caricaturing the gov't. in a carport in Mandalay put on by the Mustache Brothers which was so funny and felt a little dangerous. One particular young boy seemed to be
Feb 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
I really liked this book and it taught me a lot about Burma/Myanmar. I really know very little about the political situation there. In any case, it's set in a prison and mostly details the relationship between a political prisoner and a young orphan who lives and works there. Their relationship is beautiful. But there are a lot of disturbing and sad things that take place. Some quite hard to read. I almost felt emotionally manipulated by the author, if that makes sense (similar to how I felt abo ...more
Sorayya Khan
Jul 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Lizard Cage is a tremendously disturbing novel that, for the most part, takes place in a Burmese prison during the 1990's, a particularly brutal time for political activists. The protagonist is Teza, a songwriter who is seven years into a twenty year solitary confinement prison sentence. He develops a friendship with a young, orphaned boy who works at the prison and also has nothing. It is true that there is beauty in this novel and that it describes a tremendous resilience of spirit. But it is ...more
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Reading "the Lizard Cage" is not for the squeamish. It's about Teza, a jailed buddhist political prisoner in Burma (Myanmar) and his brutal solitary confinement. Details about his imprisonment in a small teak coffin cell are brutal and graphic; his conditions are inhuman. Teza uses meditation and reflects upon Buddhist principles to stay alive and imparts these ideas to a young boy, who though not a prisoner, lives in the prison and works there. In this story we see the power of resistance and l ...more
May 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very good, but very slow moving. If you are going to enjoy this book, you can't get impatient with the pace. You have to wait it out. The only way I can think to describe it is like the ocean tide. The story moves in and out, steadily building to a climax.

I didn't mind the pace because it fits with the story. The book chronicles the slow development of an unlikely friendship between an orphaned boy who lives and works on prison grounds in a modern day Mynamar (Burmese) prison because he has no
Aug 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
In the afterward, the author talks about the difficult process she underwent as she went outside herself and entered others' lives in an effort to write The Lizard Cage. It must have been both extraordinary and difficult considering that she was a young woman from Canada and the world she was trying to enter was that of political prisoners in a Burmese prison.

Hunger, filth, disease and tortuous cruelty are all daily parts of life in such a place. And you, as a reader, must go outside yourself to
Mary Crowell
May 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I give this 4 1/2 stars.

This book was recommended by a friend. When I picked it up, I knew it was going to be a tough topic so I had prepared myself mentally for some gruesome writing.

I thought the author did a nice job of not overdoing it. Sometimes when the story is tough to hear, authors can over-compensate? by ... romanticizing the language and/or almost over-indulging in the violence. I did not feel this by the writer- I thought she kept the integrity of the experience honest- not forecefu
Jul 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Set entirely in a prison known as The Lizard Cage, this is the poetic and sometimes brutal account of an unlikely friendship between a Burmese political prisoner known as Songbird, and a 12 year old orphan who lives and works at the prison known as Free El Salvador, the caption on his charitably donated tee shirt. It tells the desperate story of years of solitary confinement and finally of the human connection between these two , which finally allows both their own unique freedom. Fictional but ...more
Dec 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Don't assume my 5-star rating is a recommendation -- it's not. I can't think of a single person I'd actually recommend it to because it was just so very disturbing and shocking and terrible to read. It's not just the brutality and torture either. It's the hopelessness and helplessness of Teza's life and situation. And many other things.
But it's so very compelling and beautifully written!
And I was glad to learn about Burmese politics and have a small window into that country's culture.
Mar 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding story of a devout Buddhist named Teza who is sentence for 20 plus years solitary confinement in a Burmese Prison Camp. This book is equally about grave sadness and loss as it is about love and inner peace. Teza uses his Buddhist patience, and humor to find meaning in the interminable days. I did some searching and will also read “Pleading Not Guilty in Insein” which provided direction for Karen Connelly when writing this exceptional book.
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Both compelling and harrowing, this is an extraordinary novel. You live the life on a Burmese political prisoner during the 1990's. Such depth of understanding of human beings make this novel of Connelly's a joy to read- in spite of the subject matter.
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I think that this is the best book that I have ever read. Absolutely loved it.
Jan 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: can-con, 2015
I am eating an egg. He revises it.
I am eating my whole life.
Rain begins to fall, all at once, steadily, a wet broom sweeping out the sky. Fresh air billows into the cell. The rain has a mantra: egg, egg, egg, egg, egg.
With a fleck of yellow yolk stuck on his lower lip, Teza makes up a stupid joke.
What comes first, the chicken or the egg?
The political prisoner, of course.
He swallows as slowly as it's possible to swallow without choking. He revises it.
What comes first, the chicken or the egg?
Jill T.
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Going to give this a review, even though it already has many, because i would give it 4.5 stars if the "halves" were available.

I have a hard time finding any really good Fiction nowadays, let alone GREAT, and this is close to great. My only problems with it were: almost too brutal, and i can take a lot when i know it has to be there to make the book what it is. You know what you are getting into when you choose to read this type of book, but it HOVERED on being too much for me to take. Also - th
Susan Ferguson
May 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
An excellent book. It begins with a boy entering a monastery in Myanmar (Burma). His eagerness to learn to read pleases the Hsayadaw (abbot) who spend much time with him and becomes fond of his pupil. Then some officials from the state turn up looking for the boy. The abbot tells them the boy has run away. They come back with those who can recognize the boy to look each novice in the face and see if it is the one they seek. But, after they left the first time the Hsayadaw had sent the boy away w ...more
Steven Langdon
Mar 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: super
In Burma at last, there seems to be momentum toward democratic change. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is free and there are signs that the military regime may be ready to give up power -- heralding what could be full transition from one of the most oppressive autocracies in the world.

Just how oppressive the SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Committee) has been is conveyed in harrowing and harsh detail by this remarkable novel. Karen Connelly writes the tragic yet heroic story of the Son
Apr 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, top-12-2012
What a read! I never thought I could like something so grim so well.

I read her earlier book about Thailand and was impressed with how well it was written, especially for such a young writer. This novel is a whole new dimension. The story pulled me along with a huge desire to know - what happens next? While this was happening, I was slowing down to savour the language and the meticulous descriptions. on top of all of that, the characterization was amazing.

I loved the way she wove mindfulness int
Sep 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What an amazing book. It breaks your heart while lifting you up.

The plot is centered around a political prisoner, Teza, who is serving 20 years in a Burma jail for writing songs that inspired revolutionaries. After 7 years in solitary, he starts to develop a relationship with a 12 year old child whose father worked in the prison. The boys father is killed in a car accident and the boy continues his work in the prison, running errands for inmates, delivering food trays, dumping out waste buckets
Elizabeth Andrew
Dec 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-fiction
I'm hard to please when it comes to contemporary fiction. So much of it is psychologically ingrown, disconnected from history or politics or the grand questions of what it means to be human. THE LIZARD CAGE is a welcome exception. On the surface this story might seem unbearable--a main character who never makes it out of solitary confinement in a Burmese prison; a physically, sexually, and verbally abusive setting; and political circumstances that we know are still unbearable. But the main chara ...more
May 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Set in Burma, this tale of a political prisoner moves straight to your heart. Imprisoned because of his activist singing and song writing Teza is held an isolation cell called the teak coffin. He endures torture, betrayal and starvation. His Buddhist practices are essential to his survival and the positive impact he has on a jailer and a young boy who is growing up in the horrors of the compound. Amidst the suffering there is compassion, humour and a deep love of life. The plot is engaging, the ...more
May 27, 2013 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no
Recommended to Elainer by: used bookstore find
This was a tough one for me to read, way too much violence and inhumanity. I almost tossed it aside about halfway through when the story between El Salvador and Teza picked up the pace. Everybody needs something to live for. This is a testament to keeping ones' sanity while relying on intelligence, memory, courage, inner strength and the will to live to assist another human to reach for the good in life.
Jun 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I have read. Great introduction into the conflict in Burma and the trails of Aung San Suu Ky, the revolutionary leader who has been in and out of jail over her lifetime. The story revolves around Teza, who is in solitary confinement for having written protest songs against the regime in power. This novel brings meaning to the smallest parts of life.
Jan 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
I initially found this book slow. While other reviewers have praised the author's lengthy descriptions of the characters and the setting, I found it annoying. I was eager for the story to move along. Eventually, I did become hooked and I found myself enjoying the book. Towards the end, I did not want to put it down. Shed a few tears along the way too.
Jun 20, 2008 rated it it was ok
This book is upsetting and slowly paced, with myriad dream sequences and flashbacks. However, if you know nothing about Myanmar (Burma) then it is a good primer for understanding the turbulent history of that part of the world.
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent book, but difficult to read. I would have rated this a five but I felt the end left too many unanswered questions and I wanted to know the details of what happened to the characters I had come to know.
May 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very well written - but such harrowing material... and very pertinent too since a young New Zealand man finds himself in similar conditions for the next 10 months. There are so many "wrongs" in this world.
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Karen Connelly was born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1969, to a large working class family. She's the author of eleven best-selling books of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. She has read from her work and lectured in Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. She has won the Pat Lowther Award for her poetry, the Governor General’s Award for her non-fiction, and Britain’s Orange Broadband Prize for New Fictio ...more
More about Karen Connelly...
“He starts to whisper a prayer. "Whatever beings there are, may they be free from suffering. Whatever beings there are, may they be free from enmity. Whatever beings there are, may they be free from hurtfulness. Whatever beings there are, may they be free from ill health. Whatever beings there are, may they be able to protect their own happiness.” 8 likes
“Their conversations were often charged with an excitement out of proportion to what they talked about... Their words seemed to glimmer in the air between them, dangerous metallic threads that quickly connected both of them to books and ideas, to language itself. The jailer told Teza about the daring subject matter of the famous writer Ju's recent novel, in which a passionate young man falls in love with an older woman, but the story, as he was telling it, became a metaphor for their own deepening and forbidden association....Teza refused to act like a prisoner, which freed Chit Naing from acting like a jailer.” 4 likes
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