COCKROACH by Rawi Hage


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A disturbed Arab immigrant in Montreal tries to insinuate himself into a strange new world.

Hope and survival are not the same thing, indeed can often be mutually exclusive, Hage (De Niro’s Game, 2007) demonstrates. The nameless narrator has landed in Quebec with little more than memories of his sister’s murder to keep him company. In the wake of a failed suicide attempt (a jogger spotted him hanging from a tree and called the park police), he’s thieving his way through an outlandish netherworld of immigrants like himself trying to make it by hook or by crook. The struggle has stripped away much of his humanity. “The underground, my friend, is a world of its own,” he declares. “Other humans gaze at the sky, but I say unto you, the only way through the world is to pass through the underground.” Wrath against his fellow man is largely undiminished by his tenuous subterranean connections, but he holds his temper for the two women in his life: Genevieve, his psychologist, and Shoreh, an Iranian waitress who shares his bed. Hage’s certainly unreliable, possible deranged narrator is only the most noticeably unsettling ingredient in a stew of stylistic experimentation that emulates not only the tangled threads of immigrant fiction but also the dystopian visions of Kafka and Burroughs. (The protagonist imagines himself an insect and occasionally converses with a six-foot albino cockroach.) If the novel has a drawback, it’s that Hage can’t quite commit to the strangeness of his story, hastily tying up loose ends with a more conventional plotline involving Shoreh’s torturers reemerging from the past.

Messy but sophisticated, odd and decidedly interesting.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-393-07537-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2009


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