First published in 1979, The Cockroach Dance is the dramatic story of one man’s fight against injustice and corrupt systems. The book focuses on the life of Dusman Gonzaga, who lives in a rundown tenment building in Nairobi, Kenya.
From the first sentence, “the Bathroom Man’s child was wailing his lungs sick…………..in a malicious conspiracy with the world, the gods had burdened the impoverished mechanic with a mentally-handicapped offspring…’’, the reader is mesmerized as Mwangi weaves a hilarious tale bringing together an eclectic mix of characters.
Dusman is a parking meter attendant. The building where he lives, Dacca House on Grogan Road, is in a slummy area and is occupied by strange strange people like the Bathroom Man, Mganga, Chupa na Debe, Toto who is Dusman’s roommate and friend; and of course the dancing cockroaches. Each of these characters has his own story that is revealed as the story goes on.
Dusman’s life is like a series of catastrophes thrown haphazardly across his path by time itself. Nonetheless, despite his tribulations, Dusman refuses to give up and is determined to fight. In some respects, his portrayal is similar to that of Ben, the main character in “Going Down River road”, Mwangi’s other book. The similarities extend to the themes as well, where Mwangi again highlights poor housing, appalling poverty, racial discrimination and injustice, unemployment, crime, bar-women and fights.
Dusman wants to quit his job as a parking meter attendant and instead seeks to be transferred back to reading water meters. He believes the current job will drive him insane- he has insomnia. When he approaches his boss, asking for the transfer, he is given a week’s leave and sent to Dr. Bates, a psychoanalyst. The doctor, however, doesn’t understand him. Not even his knowledge from Cambridge and Oxford can help him understand his patient. And although Dusman loathes specialists, but he only visits the doctor in the hope of getting the transfer he wants. When he tells the Dr. Bates how he hates everybody and everything, the doctor responds:
“Don’t just sit there moping, go out and do something about it.”
And that is where the real action begins. Soon after Dusman sets out to get signatures for his rent petition against the owner of Dacca House, there is a raid for suspected criminals and most of the tenants end up at the police station. Most of them, despite looking harmless, are guilty of crime, and this shocks Dusman, who happens to be the innocent one of them all!! And as he lies awake, saturated with insomnia, he still plans the fight for lower rent rates.
It is one absorbing read. Enjoy!!