A Macrocosmic View
Rawi Hage is a child of the war. The boy from Beirut was a mere eleven years old when the Lebanese civil war tore his country into a thousand moving fronts. Old enough to understand what was happening, yet too young to cope with it. As a young adult, he manages to take the leap from his torn country across the Atlantic. He goes to New York, studies photography, and catapults himself into the literary universe with his first novel. "De Niro’s Game" is not just any debut. In 2008, the book won the world´s most lucrative literary prize, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
"A book with many layers," says its author, who appreciates brevity, and who prefers not to escalate into flowery and magniloquent descriptions of his highly-praised work. It takes place sometime in the 80s, he comments soberly. It’s about two boys who commit crimes during times of war "for two or three reasons, two or three purposes." One of them joins the Christian militia and participates in massacres. And then, at some point, the narrator wants to leave the country, which is why the final chapter doesn’t take place in Lebanon.
Hage vehemently distances himself from the notion the story is biographical. The novel is a collective biography, he states thoughtfully, the story of a community at war. The entire book is a collage of pure fiction, but it also contains stories he heard at some point, and which he expanded upon and transformed. Reviewed in this country within the genre of a detective novel, the author wishes it to be seen within a political and philosophical context. He sees this as the secret of his success: "I think there is a universal message to the novel. Anybody who lived through war or civil war can identify with the novel. I think the success of the novel is that it is a macrocosmic look at a community in war. And people living through hardships. It’s not a historical novel, so it doesn’t explain the Lebanese Civil War, it just shows a glimpse of how it is to be in the midst of a war”.
A task Hage doesn’t lightheartedly hand over to the media. The journalists come and after a few days leave again. It needs local voices, he says. Voices of people who have lived through something and have given thought to it, who show an insider’s perspective. "That’s why we have literature," he says. "With literature we can weave together the philosophic and the aesthetic, the literary with reality”.
As a consequence, literature in a globalized world takes on a special role. When it plays with geographies, records aesthetic and fictional moments, it creates a different form of authenticity. Regional conflicts, Hage continues, have to be perceived globally. Translation, therefore, is an important factor. And Germany, he concludes, has a long tradition of translation and preservation of religious and historical writings from other cultures, especially from the Middle East and the Islamic world. Gregor Hens has translated his work, which was published in English as "De Niro´s Game". An eloquent novel that gets under your skin. His second work will also soon be published in German. He says he is working on his third novel. But he really doesn’t want to start talking about it already.
Excerpted from a telephone interview with the author in September 2009.
Rawi Hage, born 1964, grew up in Beirut and Cyprus, and has personally lived through the Lebanese civil war. In 1982, he moved to New York where he studied photography. Since 1991, he has been working as a freelance artist and writer in Montreal. In 2008, he won the world´s most lucrative literary prize, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, for “De Niro’s Game.” In autumn 2008, his second novel “Cockroach” was published in Canada. In 2009, his book “De Niro’s Game was nominated for the first International Literature Prize from the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the Stiftung Elementarteilchen. His work made it to the shortlist of six authors.
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Haus der Kulturen der Welt
(01 January 09 - 30 September 09)