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Reviews of Cockroach (2008)

Review by tatar_khan (2009-02-16)
Cockroach is great book for High School English Class; it has everything English teachers like: rich literary language and deep themes.
The book is written by Rawi Hage who is an immigrant and writes a book in genre of fiction that I like to refer as immigration fiction. The immigration fiction focuses itself on the life and the struggles of the immigrants. Cockroach makes a good attempt at that. This book is about an immigrant who is driven by his whole life and current situation to perceive himself the lowest of the low, a cockroach.
The good
The quality of language used by the author is superb and any reader would enjoy reading the book for that reason. The author does a great job of putting vivid pictures in the readerís head, which is done through all sorts of the literary devices throughout the narrative.
Narration is original in style; it has no quotes for the dialogue and so demonstrates that the narrator is expressing the events in his head from the first point of view. This puts some doubt in validity of the narrative, as the narrator is depressed and already has visited mental institution. It also acts as the tool for character development as it helps the reader to understand the mental state of the narrator.
The characters and character development are done superbly in the book. The character development in the book is nor rushed, but it is slow in the beginning. The characters are a Lebanese immigrant, who is the protagonist, and the Iranian immigrants. They are shown in vivid details with well developed personalities and strong back stories that explain why they are the way they are. The realization why protagonist sees himself as a cockroach comes as through the understanding of his situation. The novel has additional characters such as the therapists and the other Canadians who are utilized to contrast the lives of immigrants with the lives of Canadians as well as to show how little they understand of the Middle East immigrants and the world they came from. The contrast is one of the major themes in the novel.
The themes of the novel are: the contrast of the lives of immigrants and the Canadians and the gap that the Canadians are unable to breach in their understanding of the immigrants, the emotional baggage of the immigrants that they bring with them, the hardships that they face in Canada are all developed extremely well and sit comfortably in the overall plot.
The plot itself progresses in two lines; one is in the present and in Montreal and the other one is in the past of the narrator when he lived in Lebanon. This makes it possible to understand why exactly the protagonist has become the way he is. It also shows the challenges of the protagonist in the past and in the present as well as the challenges of the other characters. However, due to the fact that the protagonist is on the verge of being insane the description of the characters that are around him are of questionable accuracy.
The bad
Letís begin with the narrative; the use of French is interesting. While it is good that it adds to the bookís feel, it is also not essential enough for people who do not know the language. The question than appears why to include it? As the narrative is done in the head of the protagonist it is hard to imagine person thinking in two different languages.
The character development also has a flaw, the protagonist from the way he speaks, comments, alludes to historical figures is clearly very educated yet there is no explanation as to where the protagonist got such education. The high level of education of the protagonist is questionable since he spent his whole life in poverty.
The plot is too slow and it fills the person with the sad thoughts. The literature is an art and such has been created for entertainment purposes first and everything else second. In this case it failed to entertain as the plot only picks up in the second part of the book with the ending that leaves the reader wondering. When the reader finishes a book, the question so what comes up. Why should have reader read this book?. This come from the fact that people want to see something besides the entertainment in the art, readers want to know what they should learn from the book. The book does an excellent way of showing life of the immigrants; however it doesnít show the whole truth of that life. There are other characters in the book that show much better and represent the immigrants and their struggles.

In the end the book has plenty to offer for people who would like to dissect it for the themes and literary devices; it offers good character development and the plot organization that is well done along with the narrative style. However, the plot progressing too slowly, fails to entertain, has a flaw in character of the protagonist and fails to answer the question of so what effectively enough. Considering all this I would say that this is book is average.

©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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