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The Lizard Cage


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Winner of the Orange Broadband Prize for New Writers

About the Author

Karen Connelly is the author of seven books of poetry and non-fiction. Her first book of prose, Touch the Dragon- A Thai Journal, won the Governor General's Literary Award for Nonfiction in 1993 and was a New York Times Notable Travel Book of the Year. Raised in Calgary, Connelly has lived for extended periods in different parts of Asia and Europe, and now divides her time between rural Greece, travels in Asia and her home in Toronto.


Canadian poet Connelly (The Border Surrounds Us) could not resist including poetry in her debut novel. Her poems, sometimes deliberately fragmental, are targeted at the military regime of Myanmar, embodying that suppressed nation's cry for freedom and desire to seek truth from its own history. The novel is a political thriller centered on Teza, a nonviolent, prodemocracy activist in solitary confinement because of his participation in the 1988 demonstrations against the government. Enduring brutality and betrayal, Teza develops a friendship with Zaw Gyi, a 12-year-old orphan who serves food to the prisoners, and becomes determined to help the boy escape the inhumane environment. Connelly's sensitive choice of words makes much of the novel a pleasure to read. Her account of Teza's experiences in prison through his interaction with various small creatures at times makes it seem as if the protagonist were in a reverie observing nature. It's a pity, then, that Connelly lowers her writing standards to include graphic descriptions of prisoner beatings and child molestation, apparently to sustain the reader's interest; this move wrecks the tone of an otherwise successful novel. An optional purchase for public libraries.-Victor Or, Vancouver & Surrey P.L., B.C. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Connelly won the Governor General's Award for Nonfiction with Dream of a Thousand Lives: A Sojourn in Thailand, and her debut novel revisits Southeast Asia to soulful effect. Imprisoned in a mid-'90s Rangoon gulag, dissident singer/songwriter Teza stalks and eats the acrobatic lizards that venture across his cell's ceiling at sundown. Senior jailer Nyunt Wai Oo angles for a promotion by scheming to plant contraband writing materials inside the celebrated Teza's cage. The plot backfires when Teza inadvertently passes the proscribed ballpoint to the illiterate, resourceful serving boy, Nyi Lay, who hoards the pen for dear life. As the entire prison is shaken down and Teza and Nyi Lay are tortured nearly to death, a bond of brotherhood develops between the lowly Nyi Lay and Teza. The gangster inmate on the ward, Tan-see Tiger, who oversees an in-house smuggling operation, completes the triangle; he and Teza realize that the only measure of liberation left to them lies in making sure Nyi Lay leaves the prison camp alive. A brutal expos? with harrowing descriptions of prison life and heavily spiritual overtones, Connelly's novel combines a thrillerlike pace with finely etched portraits that show how each character takes control of his own freedom. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

So consummate is Karen Connelly's skill in The Lizard Cage that elements [of the life of a political prisoner in Burma] compel us to keep turning the pages. Her writing is muscular and taut, bringing inmates and warders fully alive. Impressive * New York Times *
Expertly constructed, often harrowing thriller * Guardian *
A chilling and powerful story * Times Literary Supplement *
In a feat of epic vision, Karen Connelly uses her every art to tell the urgent story of what the New York Times calls "Myanmar, arguably the most repressive regime in the world". The suspense never relents. Hope is small, but it lives, strengthened by this powerful book. -- Maxine Hong Kingston
Connelly reminds me of Latin American writers and poets like Pablo Neruda, who wrote so eloquently about the ills of their homelands. Like these writers, too, Connelly finds beauty and kindness and the potential for redemption in the most unexpected places. * Toronto Globe and Mail *

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