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on 30 May 2010
Identifying himself as part human part cockroach, Hage's Lebanese waiter isn't so much reaching for the sky as looking into the underground.
Almost invisible from society as a immigrant in Montreal,Canada with nothing and no one in his life he will not be ignored ,as he forces himself into peoples lives and homes ..quite literally!
Stark, shocking, surreal and pulling no punches this novel ,like its character, will not be forgotten easily. Recommended.
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on 17 March 2010
I love this book. It is a feverish, disturbing and electrifying novel of the underworld. Thievery, indignity, yes. And also grief. Also: playfulness, wit and a love of language. Cockroach is one of the few contemporary novels that wants to make us angry, it wants us to question our convictions of what is right and what is just. And to think about how one, cut off from friendship and love, can survive in the darkness.
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on 22 April 2011
What to say about Rawi Hage's "Cockroach"? Certainly it is an interesting book, or perhaps an interesting two books. One strand of the novel, the Canadian section, is a dark picaresque, in which an alienated, self-loathing and quondam-suicidal Lebanese immigrant takes out his alienation and self-loathing both on the place he has wound up in - a cold, bland, indifferent Quebec - and on his fellow refugees from a corrupt and/or war-torn Middle East, all the while seeing himself as a cockroach, an unseen scuttler in the shadows, a lover of dirt and darkness, a thief of other's leavings. This part of the story is told in a series of near-plotless episodes, related in elegant sentences which sometimes stretch out a little too far.

The other part of the story, the Middle-Eastern section, is made up from our cockroach's recollections of his youth, recollections told with an immediacy often lacking in the drifting tale of a poor immigrant in Canada. It is during these sections that pages turn faster and the reader is keenest to hear more. Not only is this where the large part of the novel's action occurs, it is also where insights into the causes of the narrator's self-loathing are provided.

In binding these twin strands of his novel, Hage performs a neat authorial trick: the tales of the narrator's Middle Eastern youth are related during his regular meetings with his state-appointed Canadian psychiatrist, Genevieve, who is assessing him after his suicide attempt. A representative of the West's half-hearted and unimaginative do-goodery, it soon becomes clear that she is not merely professionally interested in her patient's reminiscences but also getting a voyeuristic thrill from them, the same voyeuristic thrill as the reader. In the same way her complaints about the aimless drift of the narrator's life also seem to reflect readers' (or, at least, this reader's) occasional irritation about the lack of plot in the Canadian sections of the novel. There is both skill and wit in this device and in the way it is employed.

But is this really enough? The narrator is so angry with and/or despairing of himself and all around him that the journey alongside him can be as hard going as any of his trudges through the deep Canadian snow. The book gains considerable pace the further one gets into it but at times this feels like a short tale of guns and vengeance has been tacked on to give some structure to the rambling main tale.

An interesting story then, told with skill, but gripping? Highly recommended? Not really, but definitely worth a look.
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Oh dear, I wasn't very keen on this one!

The story starts out with a man in conversation with his appointed psychiatrist after being released from a `special' hospital.

He found himself in this hospital due to the fact that he had tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide. His life is pretty much mundane most of the time, he mooches around thinking about women (mainly sexually) getting into trouble, stealing from homes and getting into other people's business.

He fabricates most of the stories about his life to the psychiatrist.

I found the book annoying, especially due to the fact that the man had not been described in much detail which meant I found it hard to get a picture of him in my mind and also at no time during the book could I discover his name. His imagined life as a cockroach although original and amusing to start with, fast became irritating as the story progressed. I found it very difficult to distinguish his illusions from reality.

On the plus side, some of the other characters were certainly interesting, amusing even and thankfully portrayed in more detail.

Unfortunately I really do not enjoy this kind of bleak tale, full of deprivation, illicit activities and very little humour. A bit too base for me.
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on 23 March 2012
This is the most refreshing book I read in years!! I loved it! It approaches exile in a completely different way. I imagine people don't like it because they prefer to think that someone else is to blame. This book shows us that no one in innocent! Brilliant!
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on 3 April 2015
Not up up his usual standard! The 'Cockroach' just seems to have the aim of shocking the reader. Two of his other books I was impressed with for their originality - yes; they had passages which required a broad and lateral thinking mind, but 'Cockroach' I would definitely NOT recommend wasting your tome reading! (Although, if you like a book that keeps you putting the pieces of the story and it comes together in the last 30 pages then perhaps this is a book for you - myself, I prefer some quality writing prior to that to keep me entertained. I would heartily recommend 'CARNIVAL' by Rawi Hage - it was in a different class.
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on 31 October 2014
I read this as a book club book and did not like it at all. The writing style and storyline were difficult to follow at times .
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"Cockroach," is the second novel from Rawi Hage, a 1992 Lebanese immigrant who now lives in the frozen, francophone wastes of Montreal, Canada. His first novel, De Niro's Game, won numerous awards, including the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. "Cockroach" looks likely to win some awards itself; it's been lauded by reviewers in some of the most prestigious journals of the land; though it hasn't been nearly so universally praised by Amazon reviewers. I guess it is more likely to achieve what the French would call a success "d'estime, (of esteem, i.e., of the critics)" than "fou (mad)."

The book which, it appears, might be semi-autobiographical, as they say, concerns an unnamed, unreliable, unskilled and unlikeable narrator who has emigrated from Lebanon, fleeing the violence there, and immigrated to Montreal, about which city's legendarily cold winter he complains endlessly. He lives buried deep within that city's midEastern immigrant community, collects welfare while washing dishes off the books, and doing the odd spot of thievery. He is apparently under the influence of Franz Kafka's famous novelThe Metamorphosis , in which the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, awakens one morning turned into a giant cockroach. (Our narrator's sister used to call him a cockroach back in their childhood games in Lebanon.) And, in the current day, our narrator has many cockroaches in his squalid apartment; thinks a lot about them, kills them with the sole of his slipper, and occasionally imagines himself in conversation with, or turning into, one of them. Only cockroaches, the Jehovah's Witnesses have explained to him, will survive the end of the world as we know it.

Well, it's certainly a shocking, dark novel, with all the creepy, hallucinatory intensity of a bad dream. Although, mind you, it is shot through with a suitably dark, sometimes playful, sometimes poetic, humor. Its language is unapologetically raw; it gives us a worm's -- or cockroach's-- eye view of the world, and it delves into downright disgusting - or, as the French would say, "degoutant" material at times. There's no question but that Hage is a skilled and flexible writer, who delivers his most unpleasant material with immediacy; but be warned, he never uses one word when fifteen will do.
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on 21 February 2016
Very different book, but well written and hence readable.
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on 20 October 2009
To compare this to Kafka is like comparing the launch of a satellite rocket to a cheap firework! Many attempts of critics to find symbolism in this disjointed and immature depiction of relationships between a self-loathing asylum seeker and other recent immigrants is an amusing case of "The Emperor's New Clothes". Not one member of our book discussion group found anything to recommend it. Do not let this book intrude on your life.
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