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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
A teenager growing up in the grim chaos of Lebanon’s civil war discovers a secret cabal of misfits and pariahs united in their desire to die a good death. Rawi Hage’s fascinating novel introduces us to Pavlov, an undertaker’s son. After his father’s passing, Pavlov uncovers the truth: Dad was responsible for helping social outcasts obtain proper burials. Hage’s macabre premise is a jumping-off point for a profound meditation on the importance of bearing witness—and the role of ritual in the face of violence. Beirut Hellfire Society creates meaning out of social disorder, making it feel like a timely and important read.
After his eccentric undertaker father is killed by a stray artillery shell, Pavlov, a brooding and isolated young man, assumes control of the family business in Beirut in this potent novel from Hage (De Niro's Game). Pavlov's new responsibilities are accompanied by an invitation to join the secretive Hellfire Society, an order of outcasts and libertines that relied on Pavlov's father and his hidden crematorium to give them proper funerals. Told over the course of 1978, the story is crafted with a filmmaker's touch, favoring bold characters and colorful drama to depict the human cost of Lebanon's civil war. Pavlov accepts the Society's invitation without hesitation, and soon becomes a makeshift fixer for Beirut's broken-beyond-repair: a would-be assassin requests his ashes be mingled with his dead son's; a wealthy widow plans to be exhumed and relocated to the side of her dead lover; the sons of a murdered communist hope to cremate their mother who was denied a grave by religious authorities. Pavlov's strange responsibilities quickly bring him into conflict with a disturbed militiaman and a violent drug dealer, challenging the carefully cultivated detachment he wears as armor. Hage's novel is a brisk, surreal, and often comic plunge into surviving the absurd nihilism of war.