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A finalist for numerous Canadian book prizes, Hage's first novel is the haunting tale of two childhood friends in Beirut. Bassam and George (a.k.a. De Niro) came of age in a city pounded by "ten thousand bombs," a place utterly changed by war yet forced to wait patiently for its rebirth. Bassam notes that the bombs land in twos, "like Midwestern American tourists in Paris." He works at the docks, quietly observing the shady doings in the dark, and dreams of escaping to "Roma." George sits in a local casino, providing change for the gamblers who play the machines, and watches mutely as the militia carry the day's spoils away in bags.
In Beirut, the two young men have little hope of a future beyond a life of crime. Indelibly shaped by the war and violence of their homeland, they've grown up to yield a strange mixture of the carnage and immorality that surrounds them, yet they maintain a touch of innocence that has yet to be fully expunged. By what measure can decency be judged in the midst of chaos and atrocity? How does one measure love or loyalty? And can one be blamed for failing to recognize the moment of choice -- between redemption and damnation -- in such hellish circumstances? Such are the imponderables faced by Hage's characters in this spellbinding novel.
(Holiday 2007 Selection)
De Niro's Game,…presents a portrait of two childhood friends living in war-torn Beirut during the early 1980s. Juxtaposing edgy imagery with the repetitive calm of beautiful Arabic poetry, the novel explores the lives of Bassam and George, young men who must choose either to stay in Beirut relying on stealth and violence or live in alienation abroad. Bassam dreams of escaping, and to make money for this he schemes with George to skim proceeds from poker arcades and smuggle bottles of counterfeit whiskey. George, on the other hand, chooses to stay and is forced into military service. He maneuvers his way through the ranks and lives a mad-dog life of sanctioned crime. Hundreds of thousands of bombs fall in this book as the boys maraud and chase women. It's a hallucinatory vision of how war corrupts even friendship. Written in English and calling upon Arabic poetry and French philosophy, De Niro's Game forms an intriguing trilingual hybrid that should cement its appeal worldwide.
The Washington Post
This aggressive, prize-winning Canadian import debut recounts the fate of two childhood friends in war-ravaged Beirut. Narrator Bassam dreams of leaving Beirut, where there is "not enough [money] for cigarettes, a nagging mother, and food," and escaping to Rome, where even the pigeons "look happy and well fed." To fund his escape, he enters into a scheme with his best friend, George, to skim funds from the poker arcade where George works. But George is soon coerced into joining the militia and rises to its top ranks, allowing the friends to indulge in freewheeling lawlessness. Their days of riding the streets of West Beirut "with guns under our bellies, and stolen gas in our tanks, and no particular place to go" gives way to betrayal and violence more ferocious than either self-styled thug had bargained for. Though Bassam does eventually leave, he finds he cannot entirely escape Beirut; only in Paris, where the story plays out its third and final act, does he discover the extent of his friend's treachery. Hage's energetic prose matches the brutality depicted in the novel without overstating the narrative's tragic arc-an impressive first outing for Hage. (Aug.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Beirut-born Hage, who lived through the nine-year civil war in Lebanon before emigrating to Canada in 1992, here mixes fantasy with descriptions of murder, mayhem, and betrayal in war-torn East Beirut. Sprinkled with Arabic terms and phantasmagoric interludes, the gyrating story may be somewhat demanding for the casual reader. At its heart is narrator Bassam, who explores his relationship with boyhood friend George, nicknamed De Niro on the street. As George is drawn inexorably into the militia, Bassam maintains his independence, finally escaping to France. There he uncovers a web of deception and discovers the true nature of De Niro's role in the civil war. The novel examines the real value of friendship in a wartime East Beirut ruled by Christian militia factions while using its original style to convey the ugly reality of retaliatory violence that led to the massacres of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982. Given its level of artistry and portrayal of the complexities of Lebanon's civil war, this book is recommended for academic libraries.
War-wracked Beirut in the days just before the Israeli invasion is the setting for this bitter novel, the author's debut, about the death of friendship and the death of a small nation. Most Americans have probably forgotten the rotten mess engendered by sectarian hatred in Lebanon in the 1980s, but they will quickly recognize the carnage and savagery laid on in this harsh small story-it's just like today's war, and just as awful. Bassam, the narrator, and George, nicknamed De Niro, are two young Christians practicing some not-very-serious crime and trying to get dates in their Christian neighborhood, where the water has largely stopped running and the electricity is fitful. Bassam's father is dead and George's father vanished early on, and the neighborhood men have been sucked into the sectarian militias that are engaged in constant battle for control of the little country where Muslims and Christians used to coexist in commercial harmony. George is the more serious of the two, a little older, a little more thoughtful and a little more mysterious. Bassam, even when the bombs and shells are dropping, has his mind on the possibilities of sex, either with George's sexy aunt Nabila or with Rana, a young neighborhood beauty. As the war continues, so does the disintegration of their old life. Bassam's mother dies, forcing him to lurch painfully into adulthood. And it becomes clear that George has become entangled with the local warlord and will be ever more involved in the bloody civil war. The political and personal situation gets worse when the Israelis invade and George becomes a fatal part of the war's darkest hour. In the book's final third, Bassam flees to Paris with orders from Nabila tofind George's father, a search that will reveal new tragedies. Sad and discouraging for anyone holding out hope for that part of the world.
The Observer (England)
“Canadian author Rawi Hage’s exhilarating debut novel captures a dreamlike, cacophonous Beirut during the Lebanese civil war...Hage’s scattergun prose[’s]... impact lingers long after the last bomb has landed.”
Booklist (starred review)
“East meets West in this stunning first novel yielding a totally fresh perspective on war-torn Beirut.”
“Rawi Hage’s debut novel burns with a white-hot brilliance...”
Washington City Paper
“...a soaring, lyrical triumph...this novel isn’t reportage; it’s troubling and transcendent art.
“Oustanding...this extraordinary novel of two young men surrounded by the violence and tragedy of the Lebanese Civil War hits you in the stomach. Do support it.”
Los Angeles Times
“...the language, restless, enervated, slides from blunt and colorless to the candenced, figuring [the protagonist’s] world’s endless cycle of revolution and despair...Remarkable.”
“It is a viciously intense, poetically raw story, interspersed with moments of dark humor...”
The Guardian (London)
“Hage brilliantly condenses these short, incendiary lives: while the setting is relatively contemporary, the conflict and language are centuries old.”
The International Fiction Review (online)
“Hage is a talented and versatile writer who will certainly raise the threshold of Anglophone Arab-Canadian fiction.”
Daily Telegraph (London)
“...vividly evocative of the chaos of conflict and the moral confusion of young men.
“...Hollywood noir meets opium dreams in a blasted landscape of war-wasted young lives.”
“...you’ll find it hard not to think of the fevered dream of Howl.”
“...a hallucinatory vision of how war corrupts even friendship. Written in English and calling upon Arabic poetry and French philosophy, De Niro’s Game forms an intriguing trilingual hybrid that should cement its appeal worldwide.”
"East meets West in this stunning first novel yielding a totally fresh perspective on war-torn Beirut."
"Hage brilliantly condenses these short, incendiary lives: while the setting is relatively contemporary, the conflict and language are centuries old."