Twentieth century history is brilliantly reimagined through the eyes of Gregor Samsa, the fabric salesman turned cockroach from Kafka's Metamorphosis. Gregor begins his "half-life" as a circus performer in Vienna, and then, later, when he migrates to the United States, becomes an elevator operator, as he continues his conscious and unconscious musings on humanity and inhumanity. Gregor lives the "American Dream", following an unimaginable career path, becoming one of the 20th century's foremost existentialists, artists, activists, and insurance industry risk assessors, and in doing so, he provides a funny, tragic, and thought provoking critique of Western civilization, particularly the United States.
Gregor suffers from an unhealing wound in his back, inflicted when his father, frightened by his new form, threw an apple at him, a metaphor that is implicitly explored throughout the novel. Gregor stumbles upon so many pivitol figures throughout the book, that in that respect, Insect Dreams is reminiscent of Forest Gump, yet that allusion is delightful. Estrin is erudite, so at times one might need to look up a fact or a figure, but the entire experience is worth it.