Rawi Hage was born in Beirut in 1964 and he grew up during the civil war in Lebanon. He emigrated to New York when he was 18 years old. After adopting the English language there and earning his living as a salesperson and warehouse worker among other various jobs for 8 years, he moved to Canada in 1991 when his visa expired. He studied photography in Montreal and was able to exhibit his photos only a few years later. Hage started writing by coincidence – »I am an accidental writer« he says of himself – when he toured through Canada as a commissioned photographer and had to submit written documentation of his work. Instead of submitting sober, technical reports he delivered fictive short stories which instantly received a positive resonance.
The photographer continued to write narratives, some of which were printed in magazines – and one of them gradually developed into a novel − Rawi Hage’s internationally acclaimed debut, »De Niro’s Game« (2006). The novel leads us into the Beirut of the eighties and tells us the story of two friends who, barely adult, are more likely to face death than any kind of future. The author invents a unique language for the drama of war and betrayal, which combines many influences and is strongly influenced by the visual. Religious symbolism and Arabic poetry flow into the metaphors, while examples from the American cinema shape the motifs, the perspective and the narrative structure. »Hage assembled his […] novel in fast scenes, almost as it were a screenplay. At the same time, his style is highly poetic […], as though Clint Eastwood was citing the Old Testament’s Song of Songs with his jaws clamped together« (Alex Rühle, Süddeutsche Zeitung). Although he deals with his own experiences, the novel is not autobiographical. Hage prefers to speak of a »collective biography, the story of a community whose members fight each other«. The war and its consequences are also the subject of the author’s second novel »Cockroach« (2008) which takes place in Montreal’s exile milieu. In this novel, Hage shows us very strongly that you might physically escape the war, but you can never get out with an unscathed soul. While an unbearable heat dominates the Beirut of his first novel, it is incredibly cold and dark in Montreal. With linguistic force, the author provides us with a sensitive insight into a life lived at the edges of an affluent society from the perspective of an unsuccessful suicide attempt, the survivor of which is then forced to undergo therapy at the hands of a small-minded psychologist.
Rawi Hage’s literary work has been awarded the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the MacAuslan First Book Prize and twice with the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction of the Quebec Writers’ Federation. The author has a Canadian and a Lebanese passport. He lives in Montreal and is currently a guest of the DAAD-Artists-in-Berlin Program.
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