280 pages, 8 × 5.4 × 0.74 in
February 21, 2007
House of Anansi
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 088784765X
ISBN - 13: 9780887847653
Read from the Book
De Niro's Game: excerpt
Ten thousand bombs had landed, and I was waiting for George.
Ten thousand bombs had landed on Beirut, that crowded city, and I was lying on a blue sofa covered with white sheets to protect it from dust and dirty feet.
It is time to leave, I was thinking to myself. My mother's radio was on. It had been on since the start of the war, a radio with Rayovac batteries that lasted ten thousand years. My mother's radio was wrapped in a cheap, green plastic cover, with holes in it, smudged with the residue of her cooking fingers and dust that penetrated its knobs, cinched against its edges. Nothing ever stopped those melancholic Fairuz songs that came out of it.
I was not escaping the war; I was running away from Fairuz, the notorious singer.
Summer and the heat had arrived; the land was burning under a close sun that cooked our flat and its roof. Down below our white window, Christian cats walked the narrow streets nonchalantly, never crossing themselves or kneeling for black-dressed priests. Cars were parked on both sides of the street, cars that climbed sidewalks, obstructed the passage of worn-out, suffocating pedestrians whose feet, tired feet, and faces, long faces, cursed and blamed America with every little step and every twitch of their miserable lives.
Heat descended, bombs landed, and thugs jumped the long lines for bread, stole the food of the weak, bullied the baker and caressed his daughter. Thugs never waited in lines.
From the Publisher
"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide."
In Rawi Hage's astonishing and unforgettable novel, this famous quote by Camus becomes a touchstone for two young men caught in Lebanon's civil war. Bassam and George are childhood best friends who have grown to adulthood in wartorn Beirut. Now they must choose their futures: to stay in the city and consolidate power through crime; or to go into exile abroad, alienated from the only existence they have known. Bassam chooses one path: Obsessed with leaving Beirut, he embarks on a series of petty crimes to finance his departure. Meanwhile, George builds his power in the underworld of the city and embraces a life of military service, crime for profit, killing, and drugs.
Told in the voice of Bassam, De Niro's Game is a beautiful, explosive portrait of a contemporary young man shaped by a lifelong experience of war.
Rawi Hage brilliantly fuses vivid, jump-cut cinematic imagery with the measured strength and beauty of Arabic poetry. His style mimics a world gone mad: so smooth and apparently sane that its razor-sharp edges surprise and cut deeply. A powerful meditation on life and death in a war zone, and what comes after.
Scotiabank Giller Prize
Governor General's Award: Fiction
Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction
McAuslan First Book Prize
Rogers Writer's Trust Fiction Prize
Commonwealth Writer's Prize (Canada and the Caribbean): Best First Book
Prix des libraires du Québec
IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
Questions for Discussion
1) The city of Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War (1975?1990) is the setting of De Niro’s Game. Almost 100,000 people lost their lives in this conflict. How much did you know about the war before reading the book? What impression of the war did the novel give you? Did reading it make you want to learn more about the history of this war?
2) Hage’s writing style is poetic, merging images from the present, the near past, and the reaches of history. How does this layering function in telling the story?
3) De Niro’s Game is told in three parts — I. Roma, II. Beirut, and III. Paris. Part I is highly poetic, setting the tone and stage for the rest of the novel; Part II uses storytelling by secondary characters to relate stories from the war and stories of exile; Part III reads much like a journal. How does this three-part structure work to tell the story?
4) Hage’s quotation from Ezekiel — “And the breadth shall be ten thousand” — refers to chapter 45 of the book of Ezekiel in the Bible, which describes what the measurements are to be of a holy district set aside for God. What effect does the repetition of the number “ten thousand” throughout the book have on the reader? How is it connected to Hage’s portrayal of religion in the novel?
5) There is frequent mention of dogs, cats, and birds throughout the novel. What purpose does this have? How did the story of the dog executions affect you as a reader? Why does Bassam say, “All cities should be emptied of men and given to dogs”? What is the significance of the partridge that follows Bassam from Beirut to Paris?
6) Genevieve says that she knew Beirut before the war and that it was a beautiful place. In fact, it was the intellectual capital of the Arab world and a major commercial and tourist centre until the civil war began. Bassam also reminds us that Beirut is an ancient Roman city. Why does he want to go to Rome? What overtones of the fall of the Roman Empire are reflected in the novel?
7) Bassam calls Fairuz, “the notorious singer” and mentions her frequently throughout the novel. Fairuz, who became internationally famous in 1971, is known as “Our (Lebanese) Ambassador to the Stars.” During the Lebanese Civil War, Fairuz never left Lebanon but, as a form of protest, did not hold any concerts there to avoid showing favour to either side. However, her voice was heard frequently on the radio. What purpose do the references to Fairuz serve in the plot?
8) Bassam observes, “That day, as I remember, there was a ceasefire and few clouds.” What do you think the author is saying here about the adaptability of humans? Try to imagine how you would react to such daily concerns as an intermittent flow of electricity and water and no garbage collection. Discuss how you imagine you would react to fifteen years of falling bombs.
9) “Dust flew onto shop windows, dust landed on silky, exposed thighs; everyone inhaled it, everyone saw through it, dust from the undertaker’s shovel, dust of demolition, dust of fallen walls, dust falling from Christian foreheads on a holy Thursday. Dust was friendly and loved us all. Dust was Beirut’s companion.” Discuss how the image of ever-present dust works in the novel. How does it reflect Beirut?
10) Bassam says, “Death does not come to you when you face it; death is full of treachery, a coward who only notices the feeble and strikes the blind.” Joseph says, “No one dies before his time comes.” How does fate operate in the story? Why does Bassam refuse to go into the bomb shelter? Why do the young men play “De Niro’s game” of Russian roulette?
11) The Sabra and Shatila massacre is a real event that took place from September 16 to September 19, 1982. Between 700 and 3500 Palestinians were killed in the manner described by George. George says the whole thing was “like a movie” and that some of the killers were high on cocaine. Is desensitization essential to war? What does George mean when he says “the torture chambers are inside us”?
12) Bassam says, “I could not remember when, exactly, Paris had started to move south, or when it had finally deserted its colonies and slid back north.” What does Monsieur Laurent’s life reveal about colonialism? What does Bassam’s reading of Jean-Paul Sartre’s L’Étranger reveal about colonialism?
13) “I had finally succeeded in leaving and had entered those posters with the happy fountains and the pigeons,” says Bassam. Why is he unable to reconcile the real Paris with the one he has heard about? Why does he create his own imaginary revolutionary army while in Paris?