At first, I wasn’t so sure I liked this book, but by the time I had finished, I felt differently. I didn’t love the story, but his writing drew me in and pulled me along. I was curious to know what was going to happen to this poor man in the end.
Cockroach is the story of an immigrant from a worn-torn country, who is struggling with who he is and how he fits into his new life in Canada. We get a peek at life in the immigrant community as well, as he interacts with the other characters in the book. The main character, himself, has been rescued from an attempted suicide and “imagines himself to be a cockroach invading the lives of the privileged”. Being a cockroach is how he so easily slips into other people’s houses and cars to invade their privacy and steal their things. At times, he also sees himself as a cockroach in the mirror. On one occasion, the cockroach in the mirror tells him,
“Look at you, always escaping, slipping, and feeling trapped in everything you do…. You are what I call a vulture, living on the periphery of the kill. Waiting for the kill, but never having the courage to do it yourself.”
I found it hard to really like any of the characters in Cockroach, but easy to feel sorry for them. The main character, himself, seemed to like very few people, which only served to increase his isolation. With the exception of women (one in particular) he seems to despise, envy, or ridicule everyone he knows and meets. He also feels everyone looks down on him because he is poor or because he is an immigrant. Do Canadians see immigrants this way? Or is it “just a story”?
“Some of these immigrants are still eager to re-enact those lost days of houses with pillars, servants, and thick cigars. Filth! They are the worst – the Third World elite are the filth of the planet and I do not feel any affinity with their jingling-jewelry wives, their arrogance, their large TV screens. Filth! They consider themselves royalty when all they are is the residue of colonial power.”
“I see people for what they are. I strip them of everything and see their hollowness. I strip them and they are relieved of the burden of colour and disguise.”
“Yes, I am poor, I am vermin, a bug, I am at the bottom of the scale. But I still exist.”
“But how, how to exist and not to belong?”
A couple favourite passages from the book (there are so many great ones in this book):
“… her laugh escaped her and slapped me in the face, kicked me in the gut, mopped the floor with my hairy chest, dipped me in sweat and squeezed my heart with unbearable happiness.”
“Simple woman, I thought. Gentle, educated, but naïve, she is sheltered by glaciers and prairies, thick forests, oceans and dancing seals.”
Cockroach is the fourth book I’ve read from the 2014 Canada Reads Top 5 list. The question for Canada Reads 2014 is, how would this book be the one book to change the nation? I will be interested to hear what Samantha Bee has to say about it. In my opinion, so far, I would rank the other three I’ve read ahead of it. (Annabel, The Year of the Flood, and The Orenda). Has anyone else read this? I would be interested in knowing what you think this book is about and how it has the potential to change the nation.
Rawi Hage was born in Lebanon, lived through 9 years of the Lebanese civil war, and immigrated to Canada in 1992. Cockroach is his second book. His first book, De Niro’s Game is set during Lebanon’s civil war, and, based on the quality of writing in Cockroach, I think it will be added to my to-read list.