Random House of Canada|March 6, 2007|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-679-31328-1
Set during Burma’s military dictatorship of the mid-1990’s, Karen Connelly’s exquisitely written and harshly realistic debut novel is a hymn to human resilience and love.
In the sealed-off word of a vast Burmese prison known as the cage, Teza languishes in solitary confinement seven years into a twenty-year sentence. Arrested in 1988 for his involvement in mass protests, he is the nation’s most celebrated songwriter who resonant words and powerful voice pose an ongoing threat to the state. Forced to catch lizards to supplement his meager rations, Teza finds emotional and spiritual sustenance through memories and Buddhist meditation. The tiniest creatures and things-a burrowing ant, a copper-coloured spider, a fragment of newspaper within a cheroot filter-help to connect him to life beyond the prison walls.
Even in isolation, Teza has a profound influence on the people around him. His integrity and humour inspire Chit Naing, the senior jailer, to find the courage to follow is conscience despite the serious risks involved. While Teza’s very existence challenges the brutal authority of the junior jailer, perversely nicknamed Handsome. Sein Yen, a gem smuggler and prison fixer, is his most steady human contact, who finds delight in taking advantage of Teza by cleverly tempting him into Handsome’s web with the most dangerous contraband of all: pen and paper.
Lastly, there’s Little Brother, an orphan raised in jail, imprisoned by his own deprivation. Making his home in a tiny, corrugated-metal shack, Little Brother stays alive by killing rats and selling them to the inmates. As the political prisoner and the young boy forge a cautious friendship, we learn that both are prisoners of different orders; only one of them dreams of escape and only one of the achieves it.
Barely able to speak, losing the battle of the flesh but winning the battle of the spirit, Taza knows he has the power to transfigure one small life, and to send a message of hope and resistance out of the cage.
Wow, what to say about this book! Unbelievably stupid? Non-sensical? Dumb? I can’t believe people raved about this novel. It must just be me but I found it very difficult to read interest wise and it didn’t sit well with my stomach reading the descriptions of breaking apart live lizards and eating them. The spider didn’t do much for me either. This one definitely gets a thumbs down from me, however, I’m positive SOMEONE out there will just love it. It just wasn’t my cup of tea at all.