Home Today's Paper Most Popular Video Gallery Photo Gallery
Subscription Blog Signin Register
Logo
Tuesday, June 18, 2019 05:56:31 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

Cricket »

Jason Roy to miss Afghanistan, Sri Lanka games with hamstring tear


England opening batsman Jason Roy, who left the field during the team's eight-wicket win over West Indies, has been ruled out of their next two matches, against Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, an England and Wales Cricket Board release announced on Monday, 17 June.Roy had left the field during the West ...

International »

"Khashoggi death painful, stop exploiting case": Saudi Crown Prince


 AFP, Riyadh :Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has warned against "exploiting" the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi for political gains, in what appeared to be a veiled attack on Turkey.Turkey's ties with Saudi Arabia have come under strain since the brutal murder last October of Khashoggi in the Saudi ...

Editorial »

No end to pain and miseries of slum dwellers


LOCAL Government Division Minister on Sunday informed the National Parliament that about 6.46 lakh people were living in 3,394 slums in the capital city Dhaka. Responding to a question from a lawmaker, he said there were 1,639 slums housing 4,99,011 people in the Dhaka North City Corporation area and 1,755 ...

Entertainment »

Taylor Swift releases new single You Need To Calm Down


Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift needs us to calm down but with the release of her latest single we just can’t! The 29-year-old singer dropped her new single titled You Need To Calm Down from her upcoming studio album Lover. The artist shared the lyrical video of the song on her official ...

Cricket »

No fracture found on Mushfiqur's forearm


Bangladesh heaved a huge sigh of relief after an X-ray report revealed that Mushfiqur Rahim had no fracture on his forearm.Mushfiqur, considered as the most dependable batsman of the country, got hit on his right forearm during a batting practice session while facing a bouncer from pace bowler Mustafizur Rahman.He ...

International »

Saudi Crown Prince lashes out at arch-rival Iran over tanker attacks


AFP, Riyadh :Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused arch-rival Iran of attacks on oil tankers in a vital Gulf shipping channel, adding he "won't hesitate" to tackle any threats to the kingdom, according to an interview published on Sunday.Two tankers were struck by explosions on Thursday in the Gulf ...

Cricket »

More than just a game: India face Pakistan in World Cup battle royale


Virat Kohli will have history on his side when India take on arch-rivals Pakistan in a World Cup blockbuster on Sunday -- a clash that is always more than just a game of cricket.India cut off bilateral cricket ties with its neighbour after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, with authorities ...

Cricket »

Eoin Morgan downplays England's injury concerns


England captain Eoin Morgan said that his team is "not at panic stations", after he and Jason Roy left the field with discomfort during the game against West Indies in Southampton on Friday, 14 June.Both Roy and Morgan had left the field at different points during West Indies' innings and ...

International »

Iran President renews ultimatum over nuclear pact compliance


Reuters, Dushanbe :Iran will continue scaling back compliance with its nuclear deal commitments unless other signatories show "positive signals", the Iranian president told a meeting of Russian, Chinese and other Asian leaders in Tajikistan.Iran stopped complying in May with some commitments in a 2015 nuclear deal that was agreed with ...

Editorial »

Don't let successes go in vain


A total of 298 people were killed and 860 sustained injuries in road accidents across the country during the Eid-ul Fitr vacation. A report of Bangladesh Jatri Kallyan Samiti presented the statistics at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters' Unity on Saturday. It said the accidents took place within 13 ...

Entertainment »

Kareena to reunite with Aamir Khan for the Hindi remake of Forest Grump?


After Karan Johar's period drama, Takht and Homi Adajania's Angrezi Medium, Kareena Kapoor Khan has given her nod to another big project and it's one of the most awaited projects already. Thanks to the incredible popularity and credibility of its leading man, superstar Aamir Khan. Yes, after 3 Idiots (2009) ...

Editorial »

The tax-happy fat budget


THE government in the FY 2019-20 budget announcement set many promises including 8.2 percent GDP growth rate and bring down the inflation at 5.5 percent. In first look, we think the promises are over ambitious. The ever biggest budget of Tk 523,190 crore is a may appear as biggest mockery ...

City »

Bangabandhu Sangskritik Jote formed a human chain in front of the Jatiya Press Club on Friday greeting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Finance Minister AHM Mostofa Kamal for presenting people-oriented budget.


.

International »

Iran has no intention to make or use nuclear weapons: Khamenei


Reuters, Tokyo :Iran has no intention of making or using nuclear weapons, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying on Thursday by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.Khamenei's comment, a reiteration of Iran's stance, comes at a time of increased US-Iranian tension, a year after Washington abandoned an ...

Entertainment »

Deepika Padukone tops the list of Most Gorgeous Women in the World by a magazine


A Global Icon, Deepika Padukone tops the list of Most Gorgeous Women in the World from Bollywood. Giving a definition to beauty, Observer Dawn wrote: “Beautiful women in the world have created a magic history through their work and other qualities.” They further added, “There is definitely more to beauty ...

 
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