Karen Connelly has travelled extensively in southeast Asia and described her experiences through non-fiction (Touch the Dragon, a memoir of her year in Thailand, won the Governor General’s Award in 1993) and poetry. Connelly’s first novel, The Lizard Cage (Random House), is set in a Burmese jail in 1995, where Teza, a dissident, has been sentenced to twenty years in solitary confinement. It is a brutal, soul-destroying environment, in many ways a microcosm of the entire country, where a military junta uses force and repression to maintain a life-and-death power over its citizens. Details accumulate relentlessly in Connelly’s telling of Teza’s tale, and at times too much is being spelled out, but in the end Connelly makes it work: we understand how a prisoner’s life can depend on his ability to kill a lizard or a rat for extra food; we become alert to the sound of footsteps approaching the prisoner’s cell, trying to determine whether they signal the approach of Handsome, the sadistic jailer, or Chit Naing, a more sympathetic guard. After reading The Lizard Cage I had a much clearer picture of the tragedy that is present-day Burma. By using fiction to take us behind the bars, Connelly makes a more persuasive argument for the need for international action than she would by writing a non-fiction polemic. The novel’s resolution is too neat to be completely convincing, but Connelly’s harrowing evocation of the prison setting feels disturbingly true to life.