My rating: 4 of 5 stars
From the fall 2012 VPL book sale.
Read in March 2013.
The protagonist is an immigrant living in Quebec. He had a job at a restaurant as a dishwasher, then was promoted to busboy, but he quit when the maitre’d told him he was “too brown” to be a waiter. He’s now on welfare.
He tried to commit suicide by hanging himself from a tree, but the branch broke. He’s currently in court-ordered therapy with a psychiatrist, Genevieve. In his sessions with Genevieve, he talks about his past and his regrets, and these scenes foreshadow the book’s climax.
All of his friends/acquaintances are also immigrants, but they don’t share his background. Most of them, like his frenemy Reza and Shohreh, who he sort of has a relationship with, are Persian/Iranian, but he isn’t. His name and home country are never revealed. (‘Lira’ is mentioned, but this is a generic term, like ‘dollar.’) However, it’s possible he’s Lebanese, since Hage immigrated to Canada from Lebanon.
He imagines himself as a cockroach. This is partly a metaphor for how he sees himself (a low-life, a pest, but resilient), but also being a cockroach allows him to explore places he couldn’t as a human. One question for the reader to decide is how much of what he does as a cockroach is real and how much is imaginary.
He’s kind of an anti-hero. He’s not a ‘good’ person (yes, the dreaded unlikable character!), but I still empathized with him.
Cockroach is funny, in a dark humor / black comedy kind of way. In what comes as no surprise (at least to me!), there are drug-induced hallucinations. Note to self: if you have the urge to write an “I’m on drugs!” scene, just say no.
Also, it’s quite scatological. You’ve been warned!