Wednesday, April 30, 2008

#30 - DeNiro's Game

Oh my, oh my, oh my, what a good book Rawi Hage has written. DeNiro's Game is my favourite of the two IMPAC books I've read so far, and it'll now become the benchmark to which I compare the rest of the shortlisted titles. It's unconventional structure, it's achingly lovely prose, and it's heartbreaking moments all catapult together to form a book that rockets along like gunfire from beginning to end.

The story of Bassam and his friend George, two boys who grow up in war torn Beirut to become men who survive as the bombs drop and people fall out of their lives and into graves at an alarming speed. The two boys, now young men, find their way with guns tucked into their pants, who make a living in ways that are so foreign to me that I often had to close my eyes and take a deep breath, and do far too many drugs (who could blame them?). Set into three distinct parts, 'Roma,' (where things in Bassam's imagination will still work out the way he hopes), 'Beirut,' (where life in a war zone becomes glaringly difficult), and 'Paris,' (where Bassam adapts to a different kind of life), the book remains riveting throughout.

For a first-time novelist, Hage's prose-poetic style of writing is effective, repeating phrases, images and inspired metaphors litter the pages, and his characters are strongly drawn. I didn't earmark as many pages as I thought I would, but I did find the following passage very moving:
Still I stood in the booth, looking with an empty gaze through the glass. I felt as if I could live inside of the book, feeling its borders, claiming it for myself. I pretended that I was talking on the phone, but all I wanted was to be in the booth. I wanted to stand there and watch every passerby, I wanted to justify my existence, and legitimize my foreign feet, and watch the people who passed and never bothered to look or wave.
If I have one teeny, tiny criticism, it might just be the overdone use of L'Etranger throughout the last third of the book. The parallels between the characters, sure, they're there, but I felt like it was the only stereotypical, oh-yeah-I-guessed-it aspect to the book.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: You guessed it, just the jacket with a link back to Anansi (as pulled from their site), as I'm away from my camera this afternoon.

READING CHALLENGES: The second of my IMPAC books, Lebanon from Around the World in 52 Books, and if I were still needing to read Canada, the passing mention of Montreal (where the author resides now, I think) would have totally counted.

1 comment:

Quinn said...

I loved it as well.

I've been dragging my reading ass this week , something to do with seeing Bjork in Belfast on Monday night has me rendered incapable of doing anything. Amazing.

I finished The Speed of Light. Yawn. I'm really surprised it made the list.

Half way through The Woman Who Waited and it's seriously good. Hope to finish it this weekend and then I'll be 50% through the list. I'm going to try the second hand shops and public libraries for The Sweet and Simple Kind.