Fred McKindra
August 06, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Rawi Hage’s debut novel follows two young buddies, Bassam and George, coming of age during Beirut’s civil war in the 1980s. Torn between escaping the country (if they can raise the funds) and fighting on the frontlines, the two work night-shift jobs and hatch a scheme to skim money from a local gambling arcade. De Niro’s Game, which takes its title from a round of Taxi Driver-inspired Russian roulette, sometimes seems overly lyrical. But Hage succeeds in pinpointing humorous, human moments in the midst of the conflict, describing the pets abandoned by wealthy French families who’ve fled the city as ”the most expensive pack of wild dogs in the world.” B

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