In both its story line and its language – at its very heart – De Niro's Game bears the flat affect of the broken and desolate … Quite a lot happens in what is, after all, a slim novel: gang wars, petty crimes, murder, the 1982 massacre of Palestinians by Israeli-supported right-wing Lebanese militias at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla – sudden turns and surfacing of events that catch up in their coils the disorder and abruptions of Bassam's world. Similarly the language, restless, enervated, slides from blunt and colorless to the cadenced, figuring that world's endless cycle of revolution and despair.
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 … The feel of the novel is frenzied, with great movement and cinematic cuts. Passages of reflection, contemplation and quiet suddenly break to violence … Hage stays away from conclusions, preferring to present ambiguous, complex characters as representatives of humanity's dark side, which he believes we should all face and talk about. If anything, the book champions secularism and highlights the evil of which organized religion, regardless of brand name, is capable.
The first thing you’ll notice is the urgency. Our hero’s youthful voice flirting with maturity, ready to move and ready to take you with him, whether you’re ready or not. Even when he’s waiting, you sense the activity, the plans and schemes to move his life along, to leave for pastures greener, or in the meantime, to bear the ten thousand bombs falling all around him … Less a political tract than a survival story, De Niro’s Game illustrates how a war breeds anarchy which then gives way to militia rule. Thuggery. And for two young men living by their wits, it’s eat or be eaten.
De Niro's Game is the most subtly nuanced, psychologically compelling book about the corrosive effects of war to have been written for a long time … Hage's writing, rather like Beirut, is richly informed by Arabic and French culture and is anachronistically grand in places. Passages of apocalyptic passion and dream-like digressions intermittently punctuate its taut, deadpan prose … The descriptions of the city are so skilful you can taste the dust in the air. Yet De Niro's Game never trades on Middle- Eastern exoticism for its own sake. Each detail adds to a portrait of a desensitised society on the brink of anarchy.
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’ … Hage's energetic prose matches the brutality depicted in the novel without overstating the narrative's tragic arc.
War-wracked Beirut in the days just before the Israeli invasion is the setting for this bitter novel … The political and personal situation gets worse when the Israelis invade and George becomes a fatal part of the war’s darkest hour … Sad and discouraging for anyone holding out hope for that part of the world.