Home Today's Paper Most Popular Video Gallery Photo Gallery
Subscription Blog Signin Register
Logo
Wednesday, July 26, 2017 12:52:57 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       Readers ( 1044 )   0 Comments
Comments
Share your thought
Post a comment »
Read all (0) »

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 )

0 Comments. Share your thoughts also.
Write a comment
Tariff
Add Rate

News Archive

Inside The New Nation

Editorial »

HSC results: Fall in pass rates fall in standard too


THE results of this year's HSC examinations saw a significant fall in both the success rate and the number of highest achievers due to the introduction of a new evaluation method, students' poor performance in English and shocking performance of students of Comilla Board. The overall pass rate of Higher ...

Cricket »

Mahmudullah Riyad passes ten years in international cricket


Sports Reporter :Mahmudullah Riyad have passed ten years in international cricket. Riyad made his debut in an ODI against Sri Lanka on 25th July in 2007 at Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. He made his debut memorable scoring 36 runs and bagging two wickets for 28 runs. Riyad ...

Sports »

Britain`s Adam Peaty swims when setting a new world record in a men`s 50-meter breaststroke heat during the swimming competitions of the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, Hungary on Tuesday.


Entertainment »

Tareen`s two Eid telefilms


Sheikh Arif Bulbon :While staying inside or outside the country her parents always remains worried at their residence in the city’s Dhanmondi area. For this reason, after finishing her works Tareen prefers to comeback to parents. Because she feels she is still child to them. Despite having engagement with activities ...

Entertainment »

Shah Rukh collaborates with Grammy winner Diplo for Jab Harry met Sejal


Shah Rukh Khan collaborates with yet another International music sensation after Akon. Shah Rukh and Grammy Winer Diplo come together for a song titled Phurrr from Jab Harry met Sejal. The Superstar has earlier got Akon on board for his film Ra.One, wherein Akon lent his voice for Chammak Challo ...

International »

Saudi, allies unveil Qatar `terrorist` blacklist


AFP, Riyadh :Saudi Arabia and its allies unveiled a "terrorist" blacklist on Tuesday of 18 organisations and individuals suspected of links with Islamist extremism that they said had ties with regional rival Qatar.The move by the four Arab governments came despite mounting international pressure to compromise in their weeks-old boycott ...

City »

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressing the DC Conference at her office on Tuesday.


Editorial »

They are only self-seekers and have no love for Bangabandhu


WHEN there are so many critically important national issues to be addressed - some of our politicians needlessly makes a mountain out of a mole hill by creating pointless controversy. This time the hullabaloo surrounds the portrait drawing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib by a ten-year old boy. Understandably, there was ...

Football »

Neymar staying at Barcelona, says teammate Pique


Brazilian superstar striker Neymar will stay with Barcelona, according to teammate Gerard Pique, who posted a Twitter message on the striker's status Sunday.Spanish international defender Pique indicated the South American maestro would continue at Camp Nou by tweeting a photo of Neymar with the caption "He's staying."The message came hours ...

International »

China says it wants to `maintain stability` in disputed South China Sea


Reuters, Bangkok :Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday Beijing wanted to maintain stability in the South China Sea as it seeks alliances in the region amid tensions in the disputed waters.The United States has criticized China for disregarding international law by the construction and militarization of artificial islands ...

Entertainment »

Kriti Sanon dances her heart out on Hawa Hawa from Mubarakan


Kriti Sanon dances her heart out as she posted her take on Mubarakan’s Hawa Hawa song. Ever since the release Hawa Hawa is going contagious not just amongst the audiences but also amongst the Bollywood Industry. After Ranveer Singh and Varun Dhawan its Kriti Sanon who grooves to this high ...

Entertainment »

Disco Disco from A Gentleman is Jacqueline’s hottest song ever


Jacqueline Fernandez, who is known to be the face of Bollywood’s chartbusters, has yet another hit track to her credit. A Gentleman’s Disco Disco song, which features Jacqueline Fernandez letting her hair down to the Disco tunes. The newly launched song showcases Jacqueline in a smoldering hot avatar. The actress ...

City »

TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman speaking at a prèss conference on `South Asian Observation in Reducing Climate Change` in the city`s Midas Center on Monday.


International »

Divided UK, inconclusive election could put brakes on Brexit


AP, London :Lucy Harris thinks Britain's decision to leave the European Union is a dream come true. Nick Hopkinson thinks it's a nightmare.The two Britons - a "leave" supporter and a "remainer" - represent the great divide in a country that stepped into the unknown just over a year ago, ...

Editorial »

Dhaka needs more space to ease traffic congestion


ACCORDING to a report published by a renowned foreign specialist and a researcher on modern Dhaka - it was revealed that one of the main reasons for increased congestion experienced in the roads and communications system in Dhaka is because of its messy expansion on all the four corners. The ...

 
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