Tuesday, May 05, 2009

De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage

Aggressive. It's a word I'd never thought to use to describe a book. But when I saw the Publisher's Weekly review of De Niro's Game, I have to admit that 'aggressive' is a completly apt word to describe this book, for Rawi Hage's debut novel is indeed aggressive. It is vivid, and it is explosive, and not just from all that bombing.

De Niro's Game is set during Lebanon's civil war and narrated by Bassam, a teenager trying to make it in Beirut and emerge alive: "War is for thugs. Motorcycles are also for thugs, and for longhaired teenagers like us, with guns under our bellies, and stolen gas in our tanks, and no particular place to go." His friend George, or De Niro, works for a militiaman and quickly rises in the ranks of Beirut's underworld. Bassam on the other hand refuses to have any part of that and dreams of escaping to Rome.

Hage delivers the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Lebanon into the hands of the reader, but I seem to have forgotten to note down quotes before I returned the book to the library. I know this sounds so wrong but somehow Hage manages to romantically describe the horrors of war: "Bombs were falling like monsoon rain in distant India."

Of course, this book is full of violence and terror: "Ten thousand bombs had fallen and I was waiting for death to come and scoop its daily share from a bowl of limbs and blood." Even dogs are running wild and attacking anything in sight. But life goes on for Bassam, although he eventually flees for Paris, where the book takes a different turn.

I far preferred reading about life in Beirut than Bassam's exploits in Paris, where the story seemed to flounder a little bit. But overall, it was pretty captivating and my verdict: Read it.

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