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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

De Niro's Game

Rawi Hage

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To purchase De Niro's Game

Title: De Niro's Game
Author: Rawi Hage
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006
Length: 273 pages
Availability: De Niro's Game - US
De Niro's Game - UK
De Niro's Game - Canada
De Niro's Game - France
Als ob es kein Morgen gäbe - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B- : uneven young-adult tale of life in war-torn Beirut and beyond

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 11/8/2007 Adrian Turpin
FAZ . 15/3/2009 Alexander Müller
NZZ . 3/3/2009 Angelika Schader
The Telegraph . 8/9/2007 Elena Seymenliyska
The Times . 20/6/2008 Christina Koning
The Washington Post . 24/6/2008 Nigel Beale

  From the Reviews:
  • "Set in east Beirut towards the end of the Lebanese civil war, 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." - Adrian Turpin, Financial Times

  • "Rawi Hage verdeutlicht die Konsequenzen, die alle Entscheidungen seiner Protagonisten mit sich bringen, unbarmherzig. In existentialistischer Lesart definieren sich George und Bassam, die als komplexe Charaktere nie zu plumpen Identifikationsfiguren werden, durch das, was sie tun; doch jeder anfangs noch so leichtsinnig beschrittene Weg, jeder unscheinbare Verrat einer früheren Unschuld, führt für sie zu immer weniger Abzweigungen, so dass ihr Handlungsspielraum zunehmend begrenzt wird. Wer unter diesen Umständen immer noch an eine selbstbestimmte Zukunft glaubt, muss gewillt sein, auch moralische Grenzen zu überschreiten. Die sich daraus ergebenden dramatischen Ereignisse schildert Hage spannend wie in einem Thriller, angelehnt an die Dramaturgie amerikanischer Actionfilme, die wiederum literarisch gebrochen wird durch seine poetische, jederzeit dringliche und kraftvolle Prosa." - Alexander Müller, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Damit ist zwar ein Spannungsbogen über die fragmentierte Präsentation des Erzählgeschehens gesetzt, doch fehlt ihm der psychologische Unterbau." - Angelika Schader, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "His novel, which has won numerous Canadian prizes, is vividly evocative of the chaos of conflict and the moral confusion of young men." - Elena Seymenliyska, The Telegraph

  • "The author, who now lives in Canada, has drawn on his own experiences of growing up in Lebanon for this compelling tale of betrayal and revenge." - Christina Koning, The Times

  • "It's a hallucinatory vision of how war corrupts even friendship. Written in English and calling upon Arabic poetry and French philosophy, De Niro's Game forms an intriguing trilingual hybrid that should cement its appeal worldwide." - Nigel Beale, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       De Niro's Game is set in the very depths of the Lebanese civil war, on the Christian side, narrated by Bassam, who at the beginning of the account has already lost his father and grand-father to the war. His father was killed in the family kitchen, where a bomb landed and "made a wide-open hole in the wall, giving us a splendid view of the vast sky", which they don't plan to fix until the winter. Bombs are constantly falling, snipers constantly need to be evaded. Bassam's small act of fatalistic defiance is a refusal to seek shelter in the cellar along with his mother and everyone else when the bombing gets close. And he has a point: regardless of the precautions one takes (or doesn't), death seems to come largely arbitrarily, without much rhyme or reason.
       Bassam's closest friend is George. Bassam has a low-paying job in the port, while George works in a sort of casino; they work a small-scale rip-off scheme to make some extra cash, but eventually George gets more and more involved with the militia, while Bassam gets drawn into some occasional drug and liquor smuggling. Everyone is on the make, looking for opportunities to make a few bucks, or to avenge some small wrongs. Violence is endemic.
       Bassam has a relationship of sorts with a girl, but that only gets so far; George also gets involved with a woman (who comes with a considerable amount of baggage, and eventually also is the cause of some problems). Bassam has vague ambitions of leaving, but it takes a while for him to truly be driven enough to take those final steps and get out of there.
       This is a story of understandably aimless youth, living in a present where it's absurd to believe in much of a future, and where they know the future can change entirely at a moment's notice. Hence also the popularity of the De Niro-game of the title, good old Russian roulette, which takes at least two lives here.
       Much of it feels like an old-fashioned Western (or a contemporary gang-saga), where guns are drawn at slightest provocation, injustices commonplace, respect demanded by those who don't deserve it but use a gun to get it. George at least finds some sense of purpose by being part of the militia (and, as it turns out, by assuming another role as well), but it turns out to be too much for him; Bassam never finds anything that can tie him closely enough to his homeland, having lost his family and been unable to take the first steps towards starting his own. Yet in the last section of the novel, set largely in Paris, to which he has escaped, he continues to act in the same reckless and irresponsible manner as he had in Beirut.
       De Niro's Game feels very much like a young-adult novel, but then that seems appropriate, as it is narrated by a young adult -- one who has had to grow up too fast and in amoral conditions, and hence has not been properly socialised. The novel is full of acts of youthful impetuousness and violence: these are almost entirely lawless streets, and while Bassam does not go out of his way to take advantage of this lawlessness (and become simply a 'bad guy'), he certainly is willing to act out violently against others when he feels it's appropriate (as he often does). Perhaps what Hage describes is authentic; unfortunately, it is also thoroughly unpleasant. Teen Angst is never very appealing, and with these young adults having (and using) guns that makes it even less so.
       The Beirut-part of the story is -- just -- compelling enough, giving an inside view of the ravages of civil war (and the way people behave), but Hage takes a fatal misstep in continuing Bassam's tale abroad. Trying for plot, he creates a convoluted mess that has its moments but doesn't hold together.
       The style is uneven: De Niro's Game is experimental in the sense of being a book in which the author is still trying to find a voice. He does, for stretches, but it's inconsistent; describing the rather dreary events can be difficult, but consistency of tone would have helped a lot. There are a few big flourishes, but fortunately Hage pulls back from trying that too often
       De Niro's Game moves at a good clip, with only a few longueurs, but ultimately doesn't provide enough insight, either into its protagonist or into the war. There are lots of flashes and bursts -- of guns and bombs going off -- and a good deal of violence, but that can only carry a book so far (not very). De Niro's Game is of some interest, but not a success.

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De Niro's Game: Reviews: Other books by Rawi Hage under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Rawi Hage was born in Lebanon in 1964, and emigrated to Canada in 1992.

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