The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly, 510 pages
Orange July: Winner, New Author 2007; Book Awards III; 3rd Canadian Book Challenge; Reading Around the World: Burma
It's a political book, a spiritual book, and a horrific look at life inside a Burmese jail.
The first third of the book follows Teza, the Songbird, jailed for opposing the military government of Myanmar. (Note to self - learn more about Burma, the coups, the people, the Peace Prize won by that woman.) Teza and his Buddhist life profoundly affect several people in the prison, including one of the jailers, Chit Naing, and an orphan, Little Brother, living in the jail. The last two thirds becomes very intense as everyone has to make difficult decisions. I found it a difficult book to read and had to take several breaks, but it was so worth it to finish it, and by about halfway through, I knew I was going to love it.
It reminded me of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, just in the way that it was epic in scope and showed the beautiful humanity that can exist, or rather must emerge, amidst terrible violence and brutal conditions. It makes me wonder what quality it is inside some people that causes them to inspire caring and elevates the people around them. And why it is that other people hate that quality and will do what they can to smash it out, but they never can, further infuriating them.
Overall, an excellent if difficult book.