Cockroach unfolds during a bitter Montreal winter. Its narrator, despite his de facto membership in a community of exiles, is utterly isolated and both fearful and desirous of human ties. As a master thief, he ties himself instead to people’s effects, using them to read the people he cannot trust. He skirts the edges of neighbourhoods, friendships, and drains, trying to stay warm and remain undetected. The story shifts back and forth between the narrator’s mainly nocturnal fossicking on chilly Montreal streets and remembrances of his troubled life in Lebanon. At first the narrator’s self-exile and suspicions make him seem alien and unknowable, but by deftly imperceptible turns Hage reveals a mind and heart as knowable as any other…which is to say barely knowable at all.
Montreal landmarks in Cockroach: the mountain, Old Port, rue St-Laurent, Côte-des-Neiges, Chinatown, Notre-Dame Basilica, Outremont
Rawi Hage grew up in Lebanon and Cyprus before moving to New York City and finally Montreal: he “arrived in the winter in the suburbs of Montreal and it was a bit of a shock.”1 At first Hage found the city to be remote and very different from New York, but once he began studying, the city grew on him considerably. During a recent stay as writer in residence at the Vancouver Public Library, Hage said, “I must confess that my first love will always be Montreal. It is home to me. I’m a true Montrealer…”1
Next up: Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner.
Photo credit: Luigi Novi