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Guide to Cockroach by Rawi Hage

Cockroach by Rawi HageOne of the most highly anticipated novels of the year, Cockroach is as urgent, unsettling, and brilliant as Rawi Hage’s bestselling and 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 naïve 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 night-time 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.

Like De Niro’s Game, winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award,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 humour.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. The main character says, “I am drawn to dark places like a suicidal moth to artificial lights.” What does he mean by this statement?
  2. Besides the obvious one of the main character turning into an insect, do you see any parallels between Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Cockroach?
  3. Genevieve, the therapist, tries to chide the main character into co-operating with her saying she has a responsibility to the taxpayers. How does she approach her responsibility to her patient?
  4. The main character says: “As a kid, I was fascinated by drains. I’m not sure if it was the smell, or the noises and echoes that were unexpectedly released after the water was gobbled, or if it was simply the possibility of escape to a place where the refuse of stained faces, infamous hands, dirty feet, and deep purple gums gathered in a large pool for slum kids to swim, splash, and play in.” What childhood preoccupations are still with you as an adult?
  5. The main character is without many of the ordinary items that we take for granted — soap, toilet paper, socks, shoes, food, warm clothing. Which descriptions or aspects of the main character’s life shocked you the most?
  6. Which aspects of Hage’s writing engage you the most? Why?
  7. “Primitive and uneducated as I was, I instinctively felt trapped in the cruel and insane world saturated with humans. I loathed grown-ups who were always hovering above me and looking down on me. They, of course, ruled the heights . . . But I was the master of the underground.” What aspects of the main character’s upbringing do you think made him identify most with a cockroach? What advantages does this identification bring him?
  8. Only cockroaches shall inherit the earth, according to the main character. What relationship does he have with God or religion?
  9. What parts do the minor characters play in the novel? Lebanon: Souad (sister), Rima (sister’s friend); Montreal: Genevieve (therapist), Sylvie and friends (rich), Shohreh Sherazy (lover), the Professor, Sehar (boss’s daughter), the Pakistani family downstairs, the landlord, his Russian wife, and the old lady she steals from, Reza the musician, Farhoud, Majeed (Shohreh’s uncle’s friend), and Mr. Shaheed (the torturer).
  10. How does the main character express his contempt for middle class Canadians, poor immigrants, formerly rich immigrants, the Professor, his therapist, and a good many of the people with whom he interacts? Is there anyone or anything that escapes his righteous indignation? If so, why?
  11. What does the main character mean when he says: “Impotent, infertile filth! . . . Your days are over and your kind is numbered. No one can escape the sun on their faces and no one can barricade against the powerful, fleeting semen of the hungry and the oppressed.”
  12. The main character says, “It is my greed that I regret. Humans are creatures of greed.” In what ways is he greedy?
  13. “I am just doing it for history’s sake,” says the main character as he helps the landlord’s wife steal from the old lady. How do his actions benefit history?
  14. What does the main character gain from his relationships with Shohreh and Genevieve? Do either of them offer him healing or redemption? If so, how?

Awards:

Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize
Shortlisted (2008)

Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction
Winner (2008)

Scotiabank Giller Prize
Shortlisted (2008)

Governor General’s Award: Fiction
Shortlisted (2008)

Globe and Mail Top 100 Books of the Year
Selected (2008)

Grand Prix du Livre de Montreal
Winner (2008)

IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
Longlisted (2010)

© 2010 House of Anansi Press

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Posted by Pearl on Aug 20 2010. Filed under Reading Guides. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.
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