Trent McClellan cracks open Cockroach


Last year's champ returns! Trent McClellan will be our guide to the Canada Reads experience. Follow along as he blogs and tweets about the 2014 edition of CBC's battle of the books. His blog posts will appear on the Canada Reads website every week. Follow him on Twitter @Trent McClellan for his complete Canada Reads 2014 coverage.


Hello Canada Readers!

I'm in Halifax and luckily I'm not a "broken man on a Halifax peer." Winter is in full force out here making this officially the longest winter that I can recall. I hope your Canada Reads books are keeping you warm. As a side note: to really get immersed in the show, you should really read all five books. The debates will mean a whole lot more to you as viewer or listener. You will also feel invested and have your own perspectives and favourites going in as well.

In any case, today I am writing about Cockroach by Rawi Hage. This book was dark but it had plenty of humour as well. Hage takes us inside the mind of an immigrant who is struggling to stay sane in Montreal. I personally have always been curious as to how we are perceived by those who make this country their second home. Cockroach brings us a character who is not in any way in love with Canada and his experience here. Life is a grind with not much happiness to be found. The narrator who is nameless (maybe as a way to make his experience a shared one) sees himself as a cockroach, which is interesting when we think of how we view that creature. Cockroaches are not welcomed, but they are relentless and they are survivors. They are almost everywhere, often scuttling around unseen and avoiding the light. I thought it was interesting that this character identified with the cockroach, but I got the sense that this view originated from how he felt the world saw him: less than welcome, and just one of many.

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This book really moves at a fast clip, and we get a vivid sense of the narrator and his world. Hage's descriptions of his protagonist's most basic actions, from eating chocolate to enjoying a cup of coffee before his failed attempt at suicide, are detailed and visceral. Although this main character views his life as one which avoids the sunlight both physically and emotionally, Hage brings a lightness to him as well. He seems to be just floating through life, and has little or no control over his destiny, which results in pain and confusion. As a defence mechanism he creates his own world, which at least gives him a shot at predictable outcomes. It's as if viewing himself as miniscule and virtually invisible allows him access he would never have as a human being. For example, a door to an apartment is a formidable obstacle to a human being, but not to a cockroach. Being nonhuman is being "free." Free from poverty and free from the stereotypes that humans deflect and absorb daily.

Hage really puts Montreal under a microscope in this book as well. His description of the streets, caf├ęs, winter nights, and the cold that accompanies him on his many walks were so accurate. One night while reading I actually remember pulling the covers up because I felt a little chillier as I could almost feel the freezing Montreal winter night.

Samantha Bee will be looking to show how important the understanding of the immigrant experience is for Canadians. In a country with such a complex, diverse and growing social fabric we have to take the time understand the challenges of those who are looking for new beginnings in this country. Simply moving to Canada does not automatically lead to prosperity and happiness. What responsibility do we have to live up to all Canada promotes to new immigrants? Is the immigrant experience the true measure of a country with a spot light on its shortcomings? The book is also about people who are marginalized in our society, the poor and the mentally ill, and how we treat them. These questions could be debated in March along with:

Will Cockroach be the little book that could this year?

Trent is on tour! Check out his Live Once Comedy Tour in Ottawa, Toronto, Fort McMurray, Lethbridge and Edmonton during the month of March. Tickets are available through

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