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Beirut Hellfire Society
Cover of Beirut Hellfire Society
Beirut Hellfire Society
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FINALIST FOR THE SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZESHORTLISTED FOR THE ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZESHORTLISTED FOR THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD FOR FICTIONAn explosive new novel from the...
FINALIST FOR THE SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZESHORTLISTED FOR THE ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZESHORTLISTED FOR THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD FOR FICTIONAn explosive new novel from the...
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  • FINALIST FOR THE SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
    SHORTLISTED FOR THE ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE
    SHORTLISTED FOR THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD FOR FICTION
    An explosive new novel from the award-winning, bestselling author of De Niro's Game and Cockroach.

    It is 1978 in Beirut, Lebanon, partway through that country's Civil War. On a torn-up street overlooking a cemetery in the city's Christian enclave, we meet an eccentric young man named Pavlov, the son of a local undertaker. When his father meets a sudden and untimely death, Pavlov is approached by a colourful member of the mysterious Hellfire Society—a secret group to which his father had belonged. The Society's purpose is to arrange burial or cremation for those who for various reasons have been outcast and abandoned by family, clergy and state. Pavlov agrees to take up his father's work for the society, and over the course of the novel he becomes a survivor-chronicler of his embattled and fading community, bearing witness to its enduring rituals as well as its inevitable decline.
    Deftly combining comedy with tragedy, Beirut Hellfire Society is at once propulsive, elegiac, outrageous, profane and transcendent—a profoundly moving meditation on what it means to live through war. It asks what, if anything, can be accomplished or preserved in the face of certain change and imminent death. Here is an exhilarating, subversive, beautiful and timely new work that reinforces Rawi Hage's status as one of our most original, necessary, fearless and important writers.

Excerpts-

  • From the book One sunny day at the start of a ceasefire, a father drove with his son down towards where the fighting had been.

    A cadaver had been lying on the ground for days, muti­lated. The son, who was named Pavlov, and his father, an undertaker, loaded the remains into plastic bags and carried them to the hearse. The cadaver's belly had been opened by a bullet wound and vermin had claimed it and multiplied inside the soft organs, gorging on the entrails. Father and son gathered the scattered items that belonged to the dead: a loose shoe, a bag filled with mouldy food, broken glasses.

    Now, the man told his son, you're sixteen—old enough to become a member of the Society. The Hellfire Society, the father added. He switched on the car radio, and drove towards the coast and then up into the mountains of Lebanon.

    They arrived at a secluded area in the high summit, and finally at a small stone house that looked to be abandoned. But the father picked up a key from under a potted plant, opened the door, and together he and his son entered. The house was simple and humble, cold and damp. Neglect and dust could be seen everywhere. The floor was bare, and through the soles of their shoes father and son felt the touch of leather against grains of dirt and sand. Walking across the room was slippery but manageable—two pairs of feet grinding little particles into the floor. The walls of the house were peeling, expos­ing straw mixed with clay, an ancient technique for efficient insulation that the villagers had used for centuries. There was a bed in the corner of the main room and, in the middle, a stove with a chimney that extended its charcoal tube towards the ceiling before the cylinder shifted at the end, a perfect ninety degrees, to reach the top of the adjacent wall and cough out its smoke.

    Welcome to the Society's mansion, the father said.

    Pavlov followed his father into the second room. This was a later addition to the house, separate from the main area. Its cement floor was bare and unpolished and the room's main feature was a large metal door in the centre of the back wall, with a smaller door beneath the large one. Beside the doors, two large gas tanks were linked by tubes. To Pavlov's eye, they resembled the garden hoses often seen trailing like ser­pents around villagers' houses.

    Eventually we may have to change the pipes, his father said. It's a simple procedure. You make sure to cut off the gas from its source there—he pointed at a handle embedded in the wall—and before you proceed, lock it firm. Look here, son. You twist this knob on the top in a counter-clockwise motion. Are you cold, son?

    Pavlov nodded.

    In no time this house will burn like hell, his father replied, and smiled. But let's eat first, and then we'll bring our unknown soul into the abode of fire, light and eternal warmth.

    They washed their hands with cracked bars of soap under cold water, then roasted chestnuts, heated bread, set out thyme and olive oil and cheese that the father removed from a jar, and drank alcohol. When they were done, they brought the body inside, laid it on a wooden stretcher that the father had made himself and carried the cadaver to the second room. The father opened the metal door and Pavlov saw what looked like a deep, long oven.

    The father turned to the cadaver, and with a singing, wailing voice he uttered these words: They say ashes to ashes, but we say fire begets fire. May your fire join the grand lumi­nosity of the ultimate fire, may your anonymity add to the greatness of the hidden, the truthful and the unknown. You, the father continued, were trapped, lost, ignored,...

About the Author-

  • RAWI HAGE was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and lived through nine years of the Lebanese civil war during the 1970s and 1980s. He immigrated to Canada in 1992 and now lives in Montreal. His first novel, De Niro's Game, won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for the best English-language book published anywhere in the world in a given year, and has either won or been shortlisted for seven other major awards and prizes, including the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award. Cockroach was the winner of the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and a finalist for the Governor General's Award. It was also shortlisted for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Award and the Giller Prize. His third novel, Carnival, told from the perspective of a taxi driver, was a finalist for the Writers' Trust Award and won the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. His work has been translated into 30 languages.

Reviews-

  • Quill & Quire (starred review) "A novel of tragic beauty and dark humour that is comfortable with contradiction and charged with probing philosophical insights and the luminosity of Arabic poetry. It's a timeless story of the outcast whose act of witness chronicles the world he observes. It is also a testament to love for life. Hage reminds us of what it takes for a novel to endure on the level of both form and content."
  • Maclean's "An elegantly beautiful novel, full . . . and gem-like sentences."
  • Chuck Erion, former co-owner of Words Worth Books, The Hamilton Spectator "A difficult but necessary read. Its carefully wrought, often poetic, writing is what kept me reading."
  • The Globe and Mail "The things that make Rawi Hage a major literary talent include freshness, gut-wrenching lyricism, boldness, emotional restraint, intellectual depth, historical sense, political subversiveness and uncompromising compassion."
  • Toronto Star "It is no surprise that Hage is also a gifted photographer and visual artist, because his sentences are like perfectly composed photographs."
  • National Post "A daring and talented novelist."
  • NOW Magazine "Hage's language is vivid, full of surreal imagery and laced with metaphor. . . . Literary risk-takers are rarer every day. I'll take a novelist with Hage's energy any time."

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