Cockroach by Rawi Hage was the fourth book voted off of Canada Reads 2014. This book was defended by Samantha Bee who is an award winning comic, actor and writer. She has been a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart since 2003.
I read this novel a few weeks ago, and it is my pick for Canada Reads. This novel seems to take off from the beginning, grabbing the reader with the way the narrator’s mind scuttles forward. It is written with the speed and dexterity of a cockroach (and I am able to say this easily after
having too many experiences with cockroaches myself). It revolves around a dark disturbed character that is living in Montreal, surviving day to day. The narrator, who remains nameless, could be any down and out immigrant you meet in Montreal, Quebec, living off of government checks, starving
because he has no money to buy anything, and few true friends because of his life style.
The flawless transition between the narrator speaking of performing natural human activities, then abnormal cockroach activities makes the novel eerily brilliant. Hage has made the words and sentences bounce around and jump from one thought to another; we are in the present, then the past, then a further past, making it difficult to keep up mentally, much like trying to kill a cockroach physically. Isolation is a major theme that occurs in Hage’s story (much like Annabel by Kathleen Winter). The narrator frequents an artist café where immigrants go to hang out. He is a man who feels as though he is living in society yet remains untouched by it. He could be anyone—and is simply one of the many immigrants here in Montreal because, like a roach, where there is one there is more.
The theme of Canada Reads 2014 is “What is the novel that could change Canada?”, and I believe that this novel has that potential. This novel left me with chills. It left me feeling both angry at the main character for not having tried hard enough, but it left me feeling angry at Canada for having failed him. If the majority of readers were effected by this book the same way I was, this could change the way our society helps new Canadians. This would be an incredible feat, as we are a nation made up of other nations. However, the debate that took place March 6th, 2014 demonstrated a good show of why not everyone relates to this novel. Mary Gaitskill of the NY Times
says that Hage's "negative characterizations are broad clichés, much too easy and too flattering to the narrator and the reader" (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/books/review/Gaitskill-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). The debators argue over Hage's main character, and whether or not he is relatable, or whether it is the other characters in this novel that create a more realistic picture of the life of an immigrant. Regardless, this novel was found to be difficult to access for the public, and The Orenda by Joseph Boyden takes home the Canada Reads 2014 title.
If you want to be touched by language that is startling and brilliant (although there was talk that the language is over the top?!), read this novel.