A bold, razor-sharp novel about a shadowy antihero navigating Montreal’s immigrant underworld.
One of the most highly anticipated novels of the year, Cockroach is as urgent, unsettling, and brilliant as Rawi Hage’s critically acclaimed first book, De Niro’s Game. The novel takes place during one month of a bitterly cold winter in Montreal’s restless immigrant community, where a self-described “thief” has just tried but failed to commit suicide by hanging himself from a tree in a local park. Rescued against his will, the narrator is obliged to attend sessions with a well-intentioned but naive therapist. This sets the story in motion, leading us back to the narrator’s violent childhood in a war-torn country, forward into his current life in the smoky émigré cafés where everyone has a tale, and out into the frozen nighttime streets of Montreal, where the thief survives on the edge, imagining himself to be a cockroach invading the lives of the privileged, but willfully blind, citizens who surround him.
Cockroach combines an uncompromising vision of humanity with razor-sharp portraits of society's outsiders, and a startling, poetic sensibility with bracing jolts of dark humor.
With a surprising degree of humor, Hage's second novel (after IMPAC Dublin-winner DeNiro's Game) explores the peculiar politics of Montreal's immigrant communities through the bleak obsessions of a misanthropic thief. After trying and failing to kill himself, an unnamed narrator who believes himself to be part cockroach is compelled to attend counseling sessions with an earnest and alluring therapist. As he unspools his personal history from his apprenticeship with the thief Abou-Roro to the tragic miscalculation that led him to flee his home country the narrator, reluctant to tell his story (we never learn where the narrator is from, and inconsistencies in his tale cast doubt upon his honesty), scuttles through the stories of others, recounting secrets both confidentially shared and invasively discovered. Unable to support himself on burglary alone, the narrator takes a job as a busboy, but runs into complications after discovering his lover's connection to the restaurant's most prominent customer. The novel's gritty back-alley world gives rise to a host of glorious rogues, each swindling the others at every opportunity, and yet each is capable of great empathy under just the right circumstances.