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De Niro's Game [Paperback]

Rawi Hage
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 21 2007 088784765X 978-0887847653
Books in Canada "...a literary equivalent of the senseless ruin to which Beirut has been reduced… what remains is an effective portrait of society reduced to chaos by war—a tragic reminder of a warning ignored."

De Niro’s Game, Rawi Hage’s critically acclaimed and astonishing first novel, is an unflinching and timely look at civil-war era Lebanon. Through flesh-and-blood characters, a gut-wrenching plot and incandescent language, Hage plunges us into the breathtaking tale of two young men trying to survive war in Beirut. Childhood best friends Bassam and George are faced with two choices for survival, leave their home and take a chance in a foreign city, or join the corrupt militia and gain a foothold in Beirut. Ultimately, their paths explosively—and tragically—collide. Hage presents an explosive portrait of life in a war zone, one that fuses vivid cinematic imagery with the measured strength and beauty of Arabic poetry.

Awards: Scotiabank Giller Prize, Finalist (2006) Commonwealth Writer's Prize—Best First Book, Finalist (2007) Winner, Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction (2006) Winner, McAuslan First Book Prize (2006) Governor General's Award—Fiction, Finalist (2006) Rogers Writer's Trust Fiction Prize, Finalist (2007)

Praise from Atom Egoyan: De Niro’s Game chronicles the madness of the Beirut civil war with dark humour and beautifully manicured urgency. [It] creates images that explode in the reader’s imagination like ten thousand bombs.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* East meets West in this stunning first novel yielding a totally fresh perspective on war-torn Beirut. Bassam and George have been best friends since childhood, when they roamed the ruined streets of their hometown, making a game out of collecting empty bullets and cannon shells to trade for cigarettes. Now, years into the civil war, "ten thousand bombs had landed," and the two have lost their parents and many neighbors to them, growing hard and cynical in the process. Every day is a test in survival, a mad scramble for food and petrol. Bassam dreams of escaping to Rome, where even the pigeons look "happy and well-fed." He and George concoct an elaborate ruse to rip off the gambling parlor where George works, but after joining the local Christian militia, George is a changed man. Soon even their close friendship is enveloped by the nihilism bred by living in a war zone, and Bassam is forced to flee from the militia, hopping a a boat bound for France. Both terse and lyrical, Hage's narrative is a wonder, alternately referencing modern American action heroes and ancient Arabic imagery. The blend of the two is as startling as it is beautiful. Wilkinson, Joanne
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nitty, Gritty And Poetic Jan. 13 2007
By Erico
I got this gem of literature for Christmas this year. At first I thought I wouldn't like it. Hage doesn't follow grammar rules for his conversations, and he has this weird habit of going on poetic ramblings when describing something. It was a bit disconcerting at the begining but I quickly fell in love with his style of writing. His dark subject matter mixed with poetic prose is a powerful combination.

DeNiro's Game is set during the Lebanon Civil War. The protaginist, Bassam, is a young adult on the Christian side of war torn Beirut. While Bassam is fixated on leaving Beiruit, his life long friend, George, is a rising star among the local militia. While bombs fall all around, Bassam, a thug in his own right, sets out on a series of jobs to fund his departure to his dream city: Rome.

As you can guess by the synopsis above this novel does not deal with the bright side of human nature. The bombed out neighbourhood that is the setting for the story is littered with thugs and guns aplenty. Hage captures the gangster allure perfectly, right down to the gun in the belt, and the cigarette in the mouth. He also succeeds equally in cornering the essence of young men, with their sexual daydreams, reckless abandon, and rock hard stoicism. It's gritty subject matter but the author - with his own experiences in Lebanon - is up to the challenge of describing it.

To balance out this dark streak the book throws in a lot of poetry. Bassam will ramble on for about half a page about one thing taking it further and further. A great little sample of this type of writing is found on the back cover. I found this style weird at the start and in fact found it was one of my favourite parts of the book as the story progressed.

This is a great novel. It is a dark tragic page turner that you won't want to put down. I give it ten thousand stars out of ten thousand.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brutal Beirut Jan. 11 2007
DeNiro's Game by Rawi Hage is a compelling story to two young men in war ravaged Beirut. Brutality is a way of life for these men - one works with the militia thugs getter deeper and deeper into degradation while the other tries to remain on the outside and dreams of another life. The protagonist is forced to leave Beirut and it is quickly apparent that he only knows how to get what he wants by force. He is an outsider everywhere. The book is beautifully written and I found it impossible to put it down. Be aware that the violence is pervasive and sometimes quite difficult graphic.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Brutality Oct. 4 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Hage's debut novel is a no holds barred look at one of the most violent and brutal moments of Lebanese history. Hage does not attempt romanticize war or to demonize it. Instead he captures with poetric beauty the desensitization that occurs when people live under terrible circumstances for a considerable period. The pill was tough and bitter to swallow, and I, lacking any empathy or even sympathy for the protagonist, am not the biggest fan of the book but I can appreciate its importance and the tenacious prose that flows like poetry. The novel grazes your skin and exposes you to the harsh reality of the world. This isn't a book for everyone but it deserves every accolade it has received.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars hypnotic June 11 2006
A great book. I enjoyed the pace that never lets off, and the literary style. The book was very effective in transporting me to the setting of the story. I also enjoyed the humor and subtle way the author denounced the folly of war.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful Oct. 7 2006
This is a superb book that could not be more timely. It is a wonderful tale of humor, poetry, and the power of the human spirit to adjust to any adversity. It gave me a rich and enjoyable overview of Levantine culture through the eyes of two friends who grew up together, yet were destined to have different paths. The writing is refreshing as it differs from the myriad of books out there that all sound the same. In summary, a fabulous book that I could not put down.
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