For the past few evenings I have been reading a book of fiction that held me horribly transfixed with the pathos and poetry that are the essence of our human selves and our potential. About halfway through the book I found I could only take small portions of it at a time. Perhaps I felt it so poignantly given my perception of where our own world has been tilting of late. I don’t know. But it was one hell of a read that compelled and repulsed simultaneously as it flowed into me. It revealed the best and the worst we humans are capable of being...and yet somehow, someway, hope is born out of a hopeless situation.
The Lizard Cage By Karen Connelly Publisher: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday Copyright 2005
The setting is a jail in Burma, the Cage. An all male cast predominates.
The renowned singer, Teza, is seven years into solitary confinement as a political prisoner. And as his body suffers and shrinks his spirit seems to grow commensurately. He travels within and revisits his family and his past. He strives to adhere to the eight Buddhist precepts, but hunger often drives him to kill and consume the lizards that come to his cell. He finds that he can stave off the desire for food more easily than his thirst for the written word...for paper and pen.
In fact, underlying the basic theme that the human spirit can survive and overcome the most unimaginable worlds, there emerges a subtheme that the power of words, of song and ideas is more powerful than any one life.
Teza is surrounded by unimaginable brutality and indifference...and yet he manages to exert an influence that is felt beyond the confines of his cell in this intimate and seemingly isolated world where glimpses of hope and freedom can fly through the walls. There are the servers who bring his food and empty his waste pail: one without a tongue, one with a tongue of deception and the last one, a young orphan, who through the vagaries of fate has come to live & subsist in the Cage and has not yet found his voice.
Both the Singer and the boy are prisoners, albeit of a different type. The boy is a prisoner of ignorance and circumstance while the Singer is a prisoner of body and jail. They eventually find tendrils of bonding ...in the boy's desire to learn and the Singer's desire to see him learn. Eventually they each find a different pathway for escape from their respective bondage.
The other people who flesh out the story are the other prisoners, the wardens and jailer; men of unbearable brutality, men who are just trying to survive by doing their job, men who prey on others, and men who make a choice when the road of good & evil diverges before them.
Although this was a book of prose it offered powerful poetry for the soul. I wish I could impart that better.
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