Books·Why I Write

Rawi Hage on the reasons writing is a form of personal freedom

In this special CBC Books video series, Canadian authors talk about what literature means to them.

'Death is such a risky subject to tackle in a novel.'

Rawi Hage on why writers should feel free to tackle issues like death and morality in fiction

4 years ago
Duration 3:12
Featured VideoIn the latest episode of the CBC Books' video series Why I Write, the award-winning author talks about his writing process and how to write fiction based on themes like death and morality.

Rawi Hage is the Lebanese-born, Montreal-based author of acclaimed novels De Niro's Game and Cockroach. 

His 2018 novel Beirut Hellfire Society follows a young man named Pavlov as he takes his deceased father's place in a mysterious group known as the Hellfire Society. Part of their mission is to arrange secret burials for the outcasts of Lebanon — those denied burial because they were gay, atheist or otherwise abandoned.

Beirut Hellfire Society was on the 2018 longlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2018 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize

CBC Books talked to Hage for the latest instalment of the Why I Write series.

Death as a beginning

"Death is such a risky subject to tackle in a novel. It's been done before, of course, but literature and death are two themes that are connected.

"I got to a certain age when I began losing close people around me like family and friends. The book started as a eulogy — that led me to explore subjects like mourning and death burials. And that led me back to Beirut during the civil war."

The freeing nature of fiction

"I think literature is a space where everything can be explored — from empathy to violence to apathy — depending on the character. It's a space where everything and anything can be explored. It is a space of ultimate freedom."

Rawi Hage's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

The CBC Books Why I Write series features authors speaking on what literature means to them. You can see all the episodes here.