Home Today's Paper Most Popular Video Gallery Photo Gallery
Subscription Blog Signin Register
Logo
Sunday, November 18, 2018 07:21:06 PM
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

Football »

Neymar penalty punishes Uruguay in feisty friendly


Neymar kept his cool to score the controversial penalty that fired Brazil to a 1-0 win over Uruguay in a full-blooded friendly on Friday.Brazil captain Neymar was subjected to some ferocious fouls from Uruguay as the clash between the South American rivals boiled over at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.But the Paris ...

Cricket »

Shakib returns as BCB announces squad for 1st Test against WI


The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) on Saturday announced the squad for the first Test of two-match series against the West Indies (WI) with ace all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan returned to the squad.Another big-name inclusion in the squad is Soumya Sarkar, whose last Test appearance came on the tour of South ...

Editorial »

Pro-people police is the demand of time


THE Police Investigation Bureau (PIB) has unveiled the mystery behind a spine-chilling crime where a middle-aged woman passenger was killed inside a running bus at Ashulia in the outskirts of Dhaka city. It took hardly seven days for them to crack the case. Police have already arrested the murderers along ...

International »

US opposes UN resolution condemning Israel's occupation of Golan Heights


AFP, United Nations :For the first time, the United States voted Friday against an annual UN resolution condemning Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights, dropping its practice of abstaining in the vote.The non-binding resolution was adopted in a General Assembly committee by a vote of 151 to 2, with the ...

Entertainment »

Aupee Karim returning to big screen


Entertainment Desk :Actress Aupee Karim is returning to the big screen after 15 years , with a film titled "Debris of Desire."Aupee made her debut in cinema with Mostofa Sarwar Farooki's 'Bachelor,' for which the actor won the Bangladesh National Film Award for Best Actress in 2004. The film is ...

City »

BFUJ Secretary General Saban Mahmud receiving posthumous 'Ratnagarva Ma Gold Medal-2018' on behalf of his mother Momtaj Salam at a ceremony organised by Society for Enlightening Nation (SOFEN) in the auditorium of the Institution of Diploma Engineers, Bangladesh in the city on Friday.


Editorial »

Only condemnation not enough, ensure safe return of Rohingyas to Myanmar


US Vice-President Mike Pence expressed the Trump administration's strongest condemnation about Myanmar's treatment towards Rohingya Muslims. He told Aung San Suu Kyi that "persecution" by Myanmar's military was "without excuse" in a meeting with her on November14. Mr Pence also pressed Suu Kyi to pardon two Reuters journalists who were ...

City »

Former Parliament Member of Moulvibazar-2 constituency MM Shaheen joined Juktofront by giving bouquets to Juktofront Chief Prof Dr AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury at the party office in the city's Baridhara on Friday.


.

Football »

Croatia stun Spain as Jedvaj strikes twice to keep hopes alive


AFP, Zagreb :Spain passed up the chance to seal progress to the Nations League finals as they were beaten 3-2 by Croatia on Thursday, undone by a 93rd-minute winner from Tin Jedvaj.Jedvaj's late strike leaves Group 4 wide open ahead of its final fixture between England and Croatia on Sunday. ...

Entertainment »

Deepika-Ranveer wedding: First pics of the gorgeous couple spell magic


Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh got married at the picturesque locale of Lake Como in Italy. The much-in-love duo got married in a traditional Konkani wedding ceremony on November 14 and today solemnised their wedding as per Sindhi tradition. After managing to keep their wedding pictures well-guarded, the couple has ...

International »

May fights for survival after Brexit deal sparks crisis


Reuters, London : British Prime Minister Theresa May was fighting for survival on Friday after a draft divorce deal with the European Union provoked the resignations of senior ministers and mutiny in her party.More than two years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, it is still unclear how, ...

Editorial »

Mass awareness needed if NBR wants more people under tax net


THE countrywide 'Income Tax Fair -2018' has already drawn a huge crowd. The authorities hope more people would be brought under tax net this year too. Finance Minister AMA Muhith while inaugurating the fair said out of country's 16 crore population, the number of taxpayers is around one crore. There ...

International »

US could lose war against Russia or China, warns panel


AP, Washington :The United States military has "lost its edge" and could potentially lose a war against Russia or China, a report by a bipartisan panel established by Congress says.The report by the National Defense Strategy Commission on November 14 said U.S. military superiority has "eroded to a dangerous degree" ...

Football »

Switzerland`s Kevin Mbabu (left) is challenged by Qatar's Abdelkarim Hassan during an international friendly soccer match between Switzerland and Qatar at the Cornaredo stadium in Lugano, Switzerland on Wednesday.


.

City »

Bangabandhu Sangskritik Jote formed a human chain in front of the Jatiya Press Club on Thursday in protest against setting fire on police van in front of the BNP Central Office in the city's Nayapalton.


.

 
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