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Beirut Hellfire Society

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  479 ratings  ·  92 reviews
After his undertaker father’s death, laconic, Greek mythology– reading Pavlov is approached by a member of the mysterious Hellfire Society— an antireligious sect that, among many rebellious and often salacious activities, arranges secret burial for outcasts who have been denied last rites because of their religion or sexuality. Pavlov agrees to take up his father’s work fo ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 16th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company (first published August 28th 2018)
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3.42  · 
Rating details
 ·  479 ratings  ·  92 reviews

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Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am ambivalent about this book:
I thought the writing was great, and the individual episodes describing the complexity of beliefs and attitudes, as expressed by the many characters in this story, was fascinating. And the setting, during the Lebanese civil war, with the constant violence and threat of unexpected death due to bombings and gunfire, was horrifying.
I've decided, however, Rawi Hage's work is not really for me. This is the second book by him that I've attempted, and the only one I've
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ahhh Rawi Hage. He's just on another level. This surpasses Cockroach as my favourite of his books (caveat - I've never read Deniro's Game). I loved the endless ways he created to approach death, violence, family, sex, hate, dance in this book. I like my books dark and my themes intricately explored and this is that. And as dark as it is there is joy and insight too. Rawi creates characters that you love and hate simultaneously - characters you feel you know intimately one moment and yet are viol ...more
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: can-con, war, 2018
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.

In the prologue to Beirut Hellfire Society, an undertaker introduces his teenaged son, Pavlov, to a secret crematorium in the mountains surrounding Beirut – burial is the only officially sanctioned method for cadaver disposal, although both the Christians and the Musl
Sep 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was a big fan of Hage's DeNiro's Game and had high hopes for his new release. While conceptually it was super intriguing, Hage doesn't execute it as well as I had hoped.

Following Pavlov, a son of a dead undertaker who serviced the marginalized (homosexuals, atheists, sexual deviants) who were unable to receive proper burials in the midst of civil war Lebanon, we are introduced to various characters whose lifestyles preclude them from acceptance among more conservative forces in society. Their
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
The description of this book seemed so promising – it’s a story about the son of an undertaker, who after his father’s death, is approached by the mysterious Hellfire Society, an anti-religious sect that arranges burials for those who have been denied them. I was immediately intrigued and the first few chapters drew me in, but then the book lost me completely. I have no idea what I just finished reading...

Several years ago, I read Hage’s novel, Cockroach, for an English assignment. I spent day
Alexander Kosoris
Taking place in the midst of the Lebanese civil war in the late ’70s, Beirut Hellfire Society follows Pavlov, the son of an undertaker. After the sudden passing of his father, Pavlov agrees to carry on his life’s work helping an underground organization perform last rites for those denied proper burials because of their lifestyle, sexuality, or religion. The story explores how people try to carry on in spite of the carnage around them, and looks at the smaller, violent feuds that arise in such a ...more
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review originally appeared in BookBrowse Journal.

In Beirut Hellfire Society, Rawi Hage creates a dance that is savage, devastating, tender, mournful, and darkly, wickedly humorous. The novel is loosely a modern-day version of Antigone, set during one year of the Lebanese civil war. Rather than a sister intent on burying her brother, the protagonist, Pavlov, lover of Greek mythology and culture, is the son of an undertaker following in his father’s footsteps in his pledge to lay to rest thos
Dawna Richardson
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book is set in Beirut in the 1970’s, a time when war was raging and people were being killed on a regular basis. The main character, Pavlov, is the son and nephew of undertakers whose father was a member of the title society. From his father, Pavlov learned about the society as well as a secret place his father had for cremations and radical burial rites.
When his father is killed, Pavlov’s encounters with his fa
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canlit
A book about a voyeur, who ironically isn't that great of a subject to follow for three hundred pages himself. Littered with secondary characters. Too tonally similar to De Niro's Game. Could have been, but ay ay ay I really wanted something different. AGAIN, really nicely written, but the punch that everyone says Hage delivers never quite hits me. 😞

Maybe my taste and Rawi Hage's style don't match up. I will probably give the next one a pass.
Ian Shaw
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For those who understand the civil war in Lebanon, Rawi Hage's latest novel, Beirut Hellfire Society, brings very special meaning. Its hero, Pavlov, is the antithesis of the sectarianism that destroyed one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East. Some readers will enjoy the novel for its simple but moving prose. Others will relish its irreverence and philosophical wanderings. But like Gibran Khalil Gibran, Hage's story-telling unravels layers of human behaviour, leaving all of us wi ...more
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hard to put into words something so brilliant.
All those books you've been reading have made you insensitive and corrupt. p39

This is not a book you will read for pleasure, despite the exquisite writing. It may not make you insensitive and corrupt, but it will crush your innocence if you have managed to retain it. And for those who like to disdain fiction as frivolous escapism, in reading this book there is no escape. The hopeful reader is catapulted into the disturbing scene and if it is fiction it is fiction infiltrated with facts, noise, d
Alysse Glick
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was a beautiful, dark, twisted, poetic, and creative. My mother grew up in Lebanon during this civil war and although she wasn't in Beirut, it was amazing for me to read about this experience through the eyes of Pavlov and the underworld of the ruined city. Highly recommend this book!
Cara Powick
This book had so much potential, but I just don’t get the point of it. I don’t even know what to say about it... just not good.
MCZ Reads
Jun 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaway-winners
Thank you to Goodreads and W. W. Norton for my ARC of Beirut Hellfire Society! I appreciate the opportunity to review this book.

This is a complex book that I'll be mentally wrestling for a while. I was expecting a more straightforward novel, but instead the book is a collection of episodic chapters. There's more observation than plot, which left me feeling like I'd read the author's thesis instead of a story. But there's some skilled writing here that captures the brutality and hopelessness of w
Sween McDervish
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fistfights, war, m-m, literary
A poetic, pensive novel about life and death (but mostly death) in Beirut during the Lebanon Civil War. Our protagonist, Pavlov, the undertaker's son, who identifies more with dogs than people, watches the parade of coffins below the family's window as bombs fall everywhere, continuously. He takes over when one falls on his father, and the story weaves tales told by intriguing characters that come to the undertaker, some to bury their loved ones, some to prepare bizarre advance directives, which ...more
Sue Dix
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is my first Rawi Hage, but not my last. The absurdity and chaos of trying to live in a city in the midst of war is brilliantly conveyed through a writing style that is frenetic, poetic, often energetic, and insane. Pavlov is a relatable, somewhat unreliable, sometimes lovable, main character. I highly recommend this disturbing, important novel.
Nov 18, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
I wanted so much more from this book.

If you like needlessly explicit descriptions of eye-rolling male fantasies, a main character who does nothing and yet muses on about the world because he read a bit of philosophy years ago (I feel like we all have someone like this in our life), and a plot that goes no where, well have I got a book for you!
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Going to read all of Rawi Hage's previous books now.
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh my. This was a brilliant novel.
Jun 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
I loved this novel, especially the story and writing style. It’s raw and emotional and I already want to check out some of the writer’s other works.
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
( This review can also be found at )

In a hidden crematorium in the mountains of Lebanon, a man and his son start a fire. “We heard your call and we came.” So goes the ritual of burning the dead who no one wants or knows. Beirut Hellfire Society (W. W. Norton & Company) by Rawi Hage is intense, visceral, and deeply emotional. Often, it is even hilarious.

In a country where bombs are constantly falling, the people of Beirut are compelled to extremes in order to survive or cope
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975 and continued for the next fifteen years. Rawi Hage’s Beirut Hellfire Society takes place in 1978, as bombs fall on the city and factions turn Beirut into so many front lines that it’s almost impossible to venture much beyond one’s own neighborhood. This episodic and heartbreaking novel centers on Pavlov, the son of an unusual narrator who provides cremations for people who have either been refused a traditional Christian or Muslim burial or who want some ...more
Lee Woodruff
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Set in 1970’s war-torn Lebanon, Pavlov is approached by a member of a secret society after the death of his undertaker father. This anti-religious sect arranges secret burials for those who have been outcast, denied last rites due to their religion or sexuality. As war continues to tear at the community and way of life in this once-elegant city, Pavlov becomes the survivor-chronicler of his fading neighborhood. He bears witness to both the enduring rituals and the heart-breaking decline. The boo ...more
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: middle-east
An excellent, matter-of-fact depiction of dealing with the continuous death and bombings during the war in Beirut. Pavlov, the undertaker's son is trained to take up the cremation and undertaking role. He provides his expertise as a dignified service to the area. My favorite funeral described is the orgy funeral of El Marquis that includes the suspended body fully made up posing in front of a Christmas tree decorated with sexual themed ornaments. A dwarf is present.
Dancing at funerals is only a
Jason Rosenstock
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wasn't sure what to expect, but this book was surprising and amazing, with dark humor that explores the ravages of war and death, and how we treat each other so poorly for unnecessary reasons. Well-written, unusual, tight, and clear. Any book that can combine surrealism and nihilism in an entertaining way is a 5-star read in my opinion!
Jen Bober
This is a strange and dark book. First book I have read from Rawi.
The book follows Pavlov who is the son of an undertaker. When his father dies he is approached by members of a secret society who need his services to arrange secret burials for those who have been denied it for religious or family reasons. Pavlov agrees to take on the work his father once did. This book takes place in Beirut in the 1970's during the Civil War so death is a predominate subject throughout the book.
I enjoyed the str
Mar 23, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 starts I would say. I enjoyed reading it, but well, it could've been much better.

The book started fairly well and interesting. The first three-quarters of the book was as good as 4stars for me and slowly turned into a 3 by the end of it. However, I still recommend reading it since it is a significant and thought provoking read.

It generally had an interesting atmosphere and setting. I mean really, how many times have u read about the son of an undertaker dyring a civil war?
Pavlo alongside th
Jan 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
I picked up Beirut Hellfire Society from the library based on a recommendation in a CBC article a while back. It sounded intriguing - I can't say I've read anything following the life of an undertaker during a civil war - but whenever people asked me about the book I haven't really had a way to describe it. There isn't much of a plot. The writing style is a bit odd, although I grew to like it. Most characters don't have names, even the important ones, and many recurring characters are treated en ...more
stopped reading and took back to the library. Not my cup of tea.
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Rawi Hage is a Lebanese Canadian writer and photographer.

Born in Beirut, Hage grew up in Lebanon and Cyprus. He moved to New York City in 1982, and after studying at the New York Institute of Photography, relocated to Montreal in 1991, where he studied arts at Dawson College and Concordia University. He subsequently began exhibiting as a photographer, and has had works acquired by the Canadian Mus
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