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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

DeNiro's Game

Rawi Hage's debut novel is about two young men, Bassam and George, living through the horror that was Beirut in the early 80's during Lebanon's civil war. Early on a pack of roaming stray dogs who'd been abandoned by their owners is highlighted. Unlike most urban wild dog packs this one is populated with the pure bred pets of the wealthy who'd fled Beirut for safer climes. This part of the book illustrates the faded elan of Beirut and the way the various factions have turned on one another.
Bassam and George are best buddies searching for ways to make a buck in their war-torn city. The novel is narrated in Bassam's voice:"We were aimless, beggars and thieves, horny Arabs with curly hair and open shirts and Marlboro packs rolled in our sleeves, dropouts, ruthless nihilists with guns, bad breath, and long American jeans." Bassam longs to flee Beirut; he is devastated by the violence. George wants to stay and progress through the ranks of the Christian militia. Guns are everywhere as is the game of Russian roulette from which the title is taken.
Once Bassam has made it to Paris he reads a copy of "L'Etranger". "Deniro's Game" echos its ennui. It's a grim novel but a good one. It starts off strong, lags a bit and then engages absolutely. Read it.

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