Flat affect. The face evidences little of worlds without or within, reflects nothing of the crushing weights thrust upon it externally, nothing of the maelstrom of thought and emotion swirling beneath. It is what one sees in the deeply troubled, in the disconnected and institutionalized, in the psychopath -- and in those who have endured the mass uprootings and siege wars that seem the very imprint of human history.
Among the many things that fiction can be, it is a corrective to history, turning away from the clash of ignorant armies, from all those grand ideas that make us so unhappy, to the realities of ordinary people carrying on lives as best they can beneath the many shadows cast over them. Fiction reminds us that history is every bit as much a lie as are novels and short stories. Fiction helps us remember that it is not the great events or ideas that matter, but those faces, those lives.
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. This first novel by Lebanon-born Rawi Hage tracks a friendship forged in the fires of Lebanon's 15-year-long civil war. Bassam sinks into crime, though always as a means simply to survive, "to reach other shores and leave this place." George takes a separate route, that of the military, steadily consolidating power as he destroys all that might have been good within him.