Home Today's Paper Most Popular Video Gallery Photo Gallery
Subscription Blog Signin Register
Logo
Wednesday, November 14, 2018 05:20:40 AM
Follow Us On: Facebook Twitter Twitter Twitter Twitter

Book Review

'The Lizard Cage' talks about inhumanity to man

photo by

By
20th-Mar-2015       
Comments
Share your thought
Post a comment »
Read all () »

When we go through Karen Connelly's debut novel The Lizard Cage, it takes us into an exotic land. Connelly is a Canadian writer and 'The Lizard Cage' is her   gritty novel about a political prisoner and a savage indictment of Myanmar's military regime.
Teza, a student activist and popular protest singer, was arrested during the pro-democracy protest in 1988 in Myanmar. He is kept in solitary confinement in a prison complex known as 'The Cage'. He has served seven years of a 20-year term. Under the harsh prison regime, Teza suffers constant hunger using lizards to supplement his diet and vicious beatings. He depends on his Buddhist faith and memories of bygone days to endure the hardship. Senior jailer Chit Naing, troubled by his conscience, is sympathetic to Teza's plight, but junior jailer 'Handsome' is sadistic and violent. Connelly has visited Myanmar often and lived for two years among Myanmar exiles on the Thailand-Myanmar border. In the Cage there is also a Little Brother, an orphaned boy raised in the prison, who survives by killing rats and selling them to the hungry prisoners. He becomes Teza's server, delivering his prison meals. Teza is now cut off from his family and contact with other prisoners. Despite his isolation, Teza has a profound influence on the people around him. His very existence challenges the brutal authority of the jailers, and his steadfast spirit inspires radical change. Even when Teza's criminal server tries to compromise the singer for his own gain, Teza befriends him and risks falling into the trap of forbidden conversation, food, and the most dangerous contraband of all : paper and pen.
Lizard Cage is lyrical, poignant, astonishing, at times shocking, and ultimately, unforgettable. 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 Myanmar government thought Teza's songs  to be revolutionary. The other is his self-appointed 'little brother', a nameless boy of twelve years old, who goes by the name of his faded t-shirt, which reads, 'Free El Salvador.' These two broken souls - 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. The book shows us  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."  Again Teza says,  "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."
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. 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 language. Contraband paper and pen that would enable one to read and write are powerful weapons against oppression and the prisoners risk much to obtain such items and to have others 'outside' hear their voices. We also see here the significance of the characters' relationships with other living things such as insects, lizards, what we would commonly consider pests. Connelly seems to have learned it and other crucial lessons from the great masters of the literature of political incarceration. Like China's Wei Jingsheng, a democracy activist jailed for nearly two decades whose prison letters were published as "The Courage to Stand Alone," she knows that even a tenuous bond with another living creature can bolster the soul. Wei raised rabbits. Connelly's prisoner studies ants. Even more crucial, Connelly realizes - as Nelson Mandela explained in "Long Walk to Freedom," an account of his 27 years of detention in South Africa - that "the most important person in any prisoner's life is not the minister of justice, not the commissioner of prisons, not even the head of the prison, but the warder in one's section."
In Connelly's novel, the jailer recruits the young orphan to smuggle the prisoner's writings to the outside world, much as one of Mandela's fellow prisoners spirited parts of his manuscript out of Robben Island. The penalty, in the South Africa of the 1970s and in the 1990s Myanmar of Connelly's novel, is, at the least, a further extension of an already inhumanely long sentence. The brutal force of incarceration dominates and corrodes everything for a political prisoner, so the written word, comparatively immaterial, acquires added power. Newspapers, Mandela observed, were "the most precious contraband on Robben Island. News was the intellectual raw material of the struggle." He and his fellow inmates scrambled to retrieve bits of newspaper that had held the warders' sandwiches. In Connelly's novel, the equivalent is the Myanmar cheroot, whose filters are wrapped in newsprint.
Connell brings to mind another Westerner, George Orwell, who served as a British imperial police officer in Burma in the 1920s and based his first novel, "Burmese Days," on the experience. As Emma Larkin points out in "Finding George Orwell in Burma," there's a joke in the region about Orwell, that he wrote not one novel about the country but three: "Burmese Days," "Animal Farm" and "1984." Orwell's essay "A Hanging" forcefully contemplates the subject of oppression, rather than its instrument. In it, he recalled watching as a prisoner stepped aside to avoid a puddle on the walk to the gallows. "Till that moment I had never realised what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man," Orwell wrote. "When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he was alive just as we were alive."
'The Lizard Cage' dramatizes a world where the powerful can force intimate cruelties upon the weak. The world shrinks to the size of a cage that holds but one man.   Prison does not keep out the country's politics but rather concentrates it. The jailers and the jailed must take some stance. The cost of a merciful act can be one's own survival. Teza is attractive to everyone who comes across him. He is innocent and loving; he is a famous popular musician. Others are moved to trust him, to help him, to use him, to destroy him. Teza composes and sings a song for his brother, Aung Min, a guerilla freedom fighter at the border:
"Brother, sometimes I fear for you
Will you enter a new era
only to make up another word for murder?
I cannot see the weapons you carry
only that warped guitar "
'The Lizard Cage' tests whether Buddhist practices have efficacy in a murderous culture. At the start, the starving Teza struggles whether or not to kill and eat the delicious lizards who visit him. Soon we face the question of how to use violence against the military.
 -Reviewed by Masum Billah

(The writer is a researcher in the field of education and a literary critic. He can be reached at: masumbillah65@gmail.com )

Tariff
Add Rate

News Archive

Inside The New Nation

Sports »

Los Angeles Clippers guard Sindarius Thornwell (left) and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green scramble for a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles on Monday.


Football »

Rooney excited for 'great moment' in England farewell


Wayne Rooney says he is honoured to make a final appearance for England and happy for manager Gareth Southgate to decide his playing time Thursday against the United States.Former Manchester United star Rooney, in video comments released Monday by his Major League Soccer club DC United, detailed his excitement at ...

City »

Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda, among others, at a press briefing for returning officers on the occasion of eleventh parliamentary election in the auditorium of Election Commission Secretariat in the city on Tuesday.


International »

Nobody can stand in its way in Pacific island cooperation: China


Reuters, Beijing :No country can block China's cooperation with island nations in the Pacific and the area is no country's sphere of influence, a senior diplomat said on Tuesday, ahead of a summit between President Xi Jinping and Pacific island leaders.Australia, in particular, has been vying for influence with China ...

International »

Israel-Gaza border facing most serious fighting since 2014 war


Reuters, Gaza :Israel launched more air strikes on Gaza on Tuesday as Palestinians kept up rocket fire on Israeli territory, in the worst surge of violence since a 2014 war.The fighting - that has killed six Palestinians, five of them militants, and a civilian in Israel since Monday -threatened to ...

Entertainment »

Oishee in China to win `Miss World` crown


Jannatul Ferdous Oishee crowned 'Miss Bangladesh 2018' on November 30. Now, she is in China for participating in the 'Miss World' beauty contest. There she will represent Bangladesh. On Saturday night at 1:00 am, Oishi left Dhaka for Sanya in China. And she reached there on Sunday morning.Swapan Chowdhury, chairman ...

Football »

New York City forward David Villa (7) movers the ball as Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson (12) defends during the first half of their MLS playoff soccer match in Atlanta on Sunday.


Football »

Ronaldo ends San Siro hoodoo as Juventus beat Milan 2-0


AP, Milan :Cristiano Ronaldo ended his San Siro hoodoo to help Juventus to a 2-0 win after AC Milan forward Gonzalo Higuain missed a penalty against his former team on Sunday.Higuain left Juventus in the offseason following the signing of Ronaldo and he had a nightmare game as he was ...

Editorial »

No development yet in city's road traffic management


THE directives to ensure discipline in traffic system issued by higher authorities have failed to bring any result. The traffic rule violation is still rampant. Almost all directives addressing owners and workers of city service buses and human haulers, pedestrians and drivers went unheeded. If the traffic management system returns ...

International »

California wildfires: Death toll reaches grim milestone


The death toll in wildfires sweeping California has risen to 31, with more than 200 people still unaccounted for, officials have said.Six more people were confirmed killed in the Camp Fire in the north of the state, taking the toll there to 29.That fire now equals the deadliest on record ...

City »

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina receiving ASOCIO 2018 Digital Government Award from Post, Telecommunication and Information Technology Minister Mostofa Zabbar at the cabinet meeting on Monday.


Entertainment »

Mamo, Puja share big screen for first time


Sheikh Arif Bulbon :It was earlier fixed that Raihan Rafi directed and Jaaz Multimedia produced movie Dohon was scheduled to release on November 16. Later releasing date was changed to November 30. Owner of Jaaz Abdul Aziz confirmed the matter yesterday. Main theme of the story was given by him ...

Entertainment »

Sonakshi Sinha has only special appearance in Mission Mangal?


Actor Akshya Kumar recently announced the entire cast of India’s first space film Mission Mangal. The film is set to go on floors next month and will be helmed by Jagan Shakti. Besides Akshay as the main lead, Mission Mangal has an impeccable leading cast that includes names like Vidya ...

Football »

Iran women attend Asian Football final in rare `victory`


Hundreds of Iranian women attended a crunch football match in Tehran, in a rare step seen Sunday as a "victory" by local newspapers and hailed by FIFA as an "historic and festive day" for the sport.About a thousand women were allowed into Azadi Stadium late Saturday to watch Iranian giant ...

Editorial »

Bring the criminals to book and ensure their harsher punishment


ANOTHER woman was killed in a running bus on Friday night. This time her father was also pushed off the vehicle on Dhaka-Tangail highway in Savar. The incident may remind one of the rape and murder of law student Rupa Khatun inside a running bus in Tangail over a year ...

 
Items that you save may be read at any time on your computer, iPad, iPhone or Android devices.
 
Are you new to our website? Do you have already an account at our website?
Create An Account Log in here
Email this news to a friend or like someone
Email:
Write a comment to this news