Kiefer_c's Reviews > Cockroach
by Rawi Hage
To be “part human, part cockroach” seems like a disturbingly profound and wild idea, but in Rawi Hage’s novel, Cockroach , that identity is illuminated within a troubled unnamed character that struggles between his own dark past and the unwelcoming society of poorer Montreal. Without having read Hage’s first novel, DeNiro’s Game , I found this novel to be surprisingly philosophical and insightful about today’s society. For instance, the protagonist made a statement that is still stuck at the back of my head; that we live in "a cruel and insane world saturated with humans."
What makes Cockroach so successful, in my opinion, is Hage's mastery of developing character that one would never view as likable, but through the recounts of his touching stories of the past (that he tells to his to his psychiatrist, Genevieve), the nameless character becomes one where you just want to care for because he has endured so many hardships. As well, there is a current, exciting and heart-pumping story that goes on about his life in Montreal which creates a perfect realm of understanding for this character’s difficult life. Essentially, Hage makes the reader comprehend that the “poor have to compromise” and how there is this “necessity…to strip the world from everything.” Through the development of the unnamed character, society is shown to be plagued with unnecessary unfairness, cruelty and injustices. However, Hage doesn’t give hope through this novel; he just signifies a need for change.
The unnamed, ill-fated character endures the cruelty of the world through acts of racism. For instance, in a Quebec restaurant when a manager responded to the protagonist’s request to be promoted to be a waiter, he bluntly replied, “you are a little too well for that…the sun has burned your face a bit too much.” These events of cruelty and injustice in the plot pushed me to flames of contemplation about how our world has become so hostile and cruel to live in. This book acts as a eye-opener that reveals the truth and understanding of why guns overtake Columbine and Virginia Tech, and why people all around the world feel the necessity to pick up a picket sign. Why? As the novel says, "the coat [humanity:] was wet and heavy, and from this I knew it was still raining in the outside world." There is still yearning for the world to change.
The protagonist is also known for his insensitive, yet humorous comments about humanity that reveal the truth of foolish identities that people try to put on. The tone created is shockingly dark and cynical. Yet when this character said “those Buddhists will eventually float down, take off their colourful, exotic costumes, and wear their fathers’ three-piece suits,” there is an element of truth to it. Buddhism is supposed to be a religion to remove all earthly desires, but the author implies this impossibility because of the fact that we are all human. These veneers make no sense, if we, like the unnamed character, see the basics of humanity, or how he puts it: that we are all “coyotes in this land.” Criticizing religion and trends at first offended me (being Christian myself), but there is this sense of sympathy and not guilty jurisdictions for this character's nihilistic attitude because he has gone through so much—things I could never imagine a human being can endure. Other reviewers may think this attitude puts readers off, but it is by this daring endeavor, does Hage allow us to see pass the status quo.
This is an extraordinary masterpiece of literature, highlighting all the essentials of understanding the darker side of humanity and the cold rawness of society. Likewise to the other reviews I read (both being four-starred), I do not think this is a perfect novel. At times the book lagged and at other times, it seemed rushed. However, Cockroach captures what it means to be human. Rawi Hage’s second book already is on my top picks list, and only time will tell what is up the sleeves of this Canadian writer’s legacy.