Rawi Hage reflects on why death is for the living in Beirut Hellfire Society
This interview originally aired on Oct. 15, 2018.
Beirut Hellfire Society revolves around Pavlov, a 20-year-old undertaker. He encounters a secret society that gives proper burials to those denied them for reasons such as being an atheist or being gay. The novel examines what it's like to live through war, what it's like to face death and what it means to feel alive.
Belief and convention
"Pavlov is a character that is torn between his own disbelief in religion and tradition, all out of duty and out of love for his father. He is accepted into the Beirut Hellfire Society because the group hired his father to conduct alternative burials in the Middle East and particularly in Lebanon. Within these regions, burial has to be done within religious institutions. There's no secular burial spaces, so this particular society decided to live outside of religiosity."
"Rituals are for the living and not necessarily for the dead. Each culture deals with their death rituals differently. There is an unusual ritual that exists in Lebanese culture when unmarried men or unmarried women die. A marriage ceremony is replicated. During the funeral, musicians are invited to play wedding songs, very upbeat songs, and then there's dancing with the coffin. It's mimicking, in a way, marriage dances."
Rawi Hage's comments have been edited for length and clarity.