The Sunday Magazine

'Beirut is still a place to mourn': Rawi Hage sets new novel in his old hometown

Rawi Hage is one of Canada’s most celebrated writers. His latest book, set in the early days of the Lebanese civil war, is a series of linked vignettes that stitch together to create a fabulist portrait of a city in the chaos of war.
Rawi Hage is one of Canada’s most celebrated writers. His latest book is set in 1978, in the early days of the Lebanese civil war. (Penguin Random House Canada, Babak Salari)

Author Rawi Hage was initially reticent about being labeled as "a writer who lived through the war and wrote about it," after the success of his debut novel DeNiro's Game.

Born in Lebanon, Hage grew up through nine years of civil war in the country's war-torn capital. In 1992, he emigrated to Montreal, where he now lives.

His latest novel, Beirut Hellfire Society, though, takes him back. 

"I thought, for me, Beirut is still a place to mourn," he told The Sunday Edition's host Michael Enright.

The novel is nominated for a Governor-General's Award, the Writers' Trust Award, and for a Quebec Writers' Federation literary award. It was also long-listed for this year's Giller Prize.

Beirut Hellfire Society is set in the early days of the Lebanese civil war in 1978. Through a series of linked vignettes that create a portrait of a city in the chaos of war, it is a meditation on death in all its forms.

Sixteen-year-old Pavlov, the book's narrator, is the son of an undertaker. His father was part of an anti-religious group called The Hellfire Society, which secretly arranges burials for the bodies of social outcasts, atheists, stray corpses and orphaned cadavers. When he dies, Pavlov is asked to continue his father's work.

Along the way, he meets an array of characters, all of whom are profoundly affected by the war raging around them.

Hage describes the novel as "anti-war, anti-violence."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now