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Celebrate the Bullet,
This review is from: De Niro's Game (Paperback)
Lebanese-Canadian author Hage mines the rich and tragic history of the Lebanese Civil War for this debut novel, featuring two Christian childhood friends who gradually grow apart. The story is set in 1982, some seven years into the war. Bassam and George grew up in the midst of the violence, and now they are adults with few prospects and no hope. Bassam clings to the notion of fleeing to Rome with a girl-next-door type from his neighborhood, while George is the more wild of the two (he is the "DeNiro" of the title, referencing the actor's role in The Deer Hunter).
The first part of the book gives the backstory of their friendship and shows them prowling the streets of divided Beirut, as they struggle to define their identity. Eventually, they concoct a scheme to skim money from the video poker arcade George manages, hoping to fund their escape. But when this scheme goes awry, George is drafted into a Phalangist militia, and becomes increasingly sucked into the war. The second part of the book revolves around their changed relationship and Bassam's further schemes to escape the country. Here the tension builds nicely, culminating in the assassination of George's leader (who can only be the real-life President-elect Bashir Gemayel), the ensuing Sabra and Shatilla Massacres., and a stark confrontation between the two friends.
The third part of the book finds Bassam wandering Paris as an illegal alien. At this point, the story starts to lose its grip a bit. Bassam is so adrift that he might well be suffering from post-traumatic stress, and Hage overeggs the custard by introducing a sily device of having him reading Camus' The Stranger while holed up in a cheap hotel. Meanwhile, a woman enters his life, and the plot drifts into bad espionage thriller territory, detracting from the overall effect of Bassam's struggle.
The writing is an interesting mix of straightforward narrative and stream-of-consciousness flights of fancy. The story will be moving along and suddenly Bassam's inner voice will unleash a torrent of loosely connected imagery. Personally, I don't care for that style of writing, but I'm sure others will find it magical. On the whole a solid glimpse into the devastation wreaked by civil war, slightly marred by the weaker third section. It should be interesting to see what Hage follows up with.