In both its story line and its language – at its very heart – De Niro's Game bears the flat affect of the broken and desolate … Quite a lot happens in what is, after all, a slim novel: gang wars, petty crimes, murder, the 1982 massacre of Palestinians by Israeli-supported right-wing Lebanese militias at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla – sudden turns and surfacing of events that catch up in their coils the disorder and abruptions of Bassam's world. Similarly the language, restless, enervated, slides from blunt and colorless to the cadenced, figuring that world's endless cycle of revolution and despair.
Juxtaposing edgy imagery with the repetitive calm of beautiful Arabic poetry, the novel explores the lives of Bassam and George, young men who must choose either to stay in Beirut relying on stealth and violence or live in alienation abroad … The feel of the novel is frenzied, with great movement and cinematic cuts. Passages of reflection, contemplation and quiet suddenly break to violence … Hage stays away from conclusions, preferring to present ambiguous, complex characters as representatives of humanity's dark side, which he believes we should all face and talk about. If anything, the book champions secularism and highlights the evil of which organized religion, regardless of brand name, is capable.
The first thing you’ll notice is the urgency. Our hero’s youthful voice flirting with maturity, ready to move and ready to take you with him, whether you’re ready or not. Even when he’s waiting, you sense the activity, the plans and schemes to move his life along, to leave for pastures greener, or in the meantime, to bear the ten thousand bombs falling all around him … Less a political tract than a survival story, De Niro’s Game illustrates how a war breeds anarchy which then gives way to militia rule. Thuggery. And for two young men living by their wits, it’s eat or be eaten.