Help me out here.
I have, in blog after blog, been choking on extremely sour grapes, been maintaing that some Lebanese boatman had stolen my thunder by not only beating me to my regular publisher, but getting two awards, notably the Giller, worh $80,000 and leading to sure fame.
Well, let's get real. I did win an award from House of Anansi Press, but it was only enough to keep me drunk for a week, as for the Giller, I didn't even apply. You have to be published by Anansi first; then you try for the Giller.
As it turned out, all my friends at Toronto's Anansi were suddenly gone, some women took over and the next thing I know, it's "Ivan who?" All my scripts were suddenly rejected, with a "better luck next time".
This, after twenty years of Anansi playing games with me, getting me the Ontario Arts Council grant, giving me the go-ahead for more work, and finally, with the change in ownershp, I seem to get, "F*ck-off Ivan. This means you."
Well, enter the Lebanese Boatman. The boatman, a refugee from war-torn Lebanon, succeeded grandly with his first novel though Anansi Press, something called De Niro's Game.
It was based in part on Robert DeNiro's The Deerhunter, a movie out of the past that I recall depressingly flat, and I did not want to see or read that kind of script again.. War and gambling ; people more or less out of my own background, tossing dice for life in Vietnam and gambling , almost for fun with anybody, even the Viet Cong. I had walked out of he movie, muttering, to myself, "WTF".
So that was The Deerhunter? , huh? After all the advance reviews and trailers. What a waste of film footage (except maybe for the ethnic wedding scenes, which were certainly colourful).
But gee, we suddenly have a matrix going here, a matrix for still another work of this type, and out comes The Lebanese Boatman with his "De Niro's Game", from the point of view of a Maronite Christian, escaping from the hell of Lebanon in the Eighties. Well yes. That part of the story we can sympathize with. But while imitation may be flattery, it seems more like fellatery.
It's about a gambler, but this time in war and revolution-torn Lebanon of the Eighties; but there is even no attempt to even hide my Boatman's idea, taken from The Deerhunter, and blatantly labelled, De Niros Game.
Well what happens next. Success. Not such great reviews after the book was published by Anansi, but the Giller prize for the Lebanese Boatman all the same.
I was jealous. Of course, I was jealous. The Boatman's script and my own script dealing with another theme hit House of Anansi Press at about the same time.
There was a wobble. Six months of waiting. Then the company asking for more time and patience.
Then finally, The Boatman gets in with fanfare, and I get rejected and pretty well called a prick.
Ain't life teejus?
So I ate crow, and then couldn't hold back my resentment and anger, told Anansi they hadn't seen the last of me and began to write again.
So I am in the process of once again tailoring my literature, hoping it would fit Anansi, when wham! Another novel by the
Ah. Not so fast this time, Rawi.
Critics will rarely pan a first novel, but by the second, you are fair game. The Boatman has a new title out, "Cockroach", also by Anansi. And did the Toronto Star ever give it to him.
They did, unless my reading perception was off.
Reviewer Jeff Pevere begins thusly:
"The defining difference between the narrator of Rawi Hage's Cockroach and his best-known literary precursor in Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis is that the former is quite content believing he is a bug. It's his natural state, a way of existing in a world that demands a certain subterranean facility just to get by. It's always served him well:
"I was the master of the underground. I crawled under beds; camped under tables, I was even the kind of kid who crawled under cars to retrieve the ball, rescue the stranded cat, find the coins under the fridge."
If the conviction that he was a cockroach helped Hage's narrator survive a trauma-stricken childhood in war-torn Lebanon, it has proven an equally functional delusion in Montreal, where Hage's unemployed, thievery-prone, sex-obsessed protagonist spends his bone-chilled days scheming for scores, meals and retribution. As a cockroach, he can go where he pleases, take what he fancies and scuttle imperceptibly down the nearest drain. "The underground, my friend, is a world of its own. Other humans gaze at the sky, but I say unto you, the only way to pass through the world is to pass through the underground."
Cockroach, the former Montreal cab driver's second novel, following the much-awarded and justly praised De Niro's Game, is a continuation of a sort. Whereas the first book described the harrowing condition of moral oblivion necessary to childhood survival in a war zone, Hage's new book considers this state as it applies to getting on with life in a new country. And that is not an easy task, despite the comfortable mythology of renewal that countries like ours offer to people who stagger here from the smoke and ruin.
A certain crust is necessary to simply make the shift from chaos to comfort, and to accept the complacency of a culture that offers refuge but remains infuriatingly blind. It's enough to make a man angry, or to convince him that prevailing through hell has brought out the thick-shelled bug in him..."
At the beginning of the novel, Hage's narrator is more convinced than ever of his creepy-crawly destiny. Not even a suicide attempt could kill him. So on he must go, negotiating a world where living is conditional on not feeling anything beyond self-sustaining appetite. Ask for nothing; take what's necessary.
It's an absurd state, certainly, but both the comedy and creepiness of Cockroach stem from the strangely rational nature of our hero's delusion. As someone who has witnessed what he has, and who has been forced to live with his role in the death of a loved one, Hage's bug-man dwells in the vertigo zone between his past and present. While that might make a man crazy enough to think himself an insect who can crawl through drains and infiltrate the apartments and homes of anyone he chooses, it's a craziness born of an insane situation."
Well, yeah, okay. The man has suffered. And that entitles him to somehow emulate Franz Kafka.
But once again "steal" from another author, also a "Czech" like the hero of the Deerhunter?
Come on now. Stealing from the best is okay, but not so consistently.
You may think a relative pipsqueak like me has no right to criticize a Giller prize winner.
But gee, my pips and squeaks are nothing compared to critic Jeff Pevere's last paragraph in his review of "boatman" Rawi Hage's COCKROACH. To wit,
Hage's Cockroach is not an inspirational novel. But it is a perceptively funny and knowingly unsettling one, drawing us along on the churning currents of one man's hard-earned misanthropy. At once wise in his perceptions and dangerously unbalanced, the man telling this tale offers a model for surviving that has little or nothing to do with the benevolence of the country that has offered him haven, and everything to do with the insect that crawls from the corpse of deadened emotions.
Well dog my cat. Or, er, cockroach?
Did Mr. Pevere describe the "cockroachesness" of a cockroach and almost condemn the author?
Anybody else interpret this last paragraph as an extermination?
Am I reading, through my green eyes, too much into this?