Reviews > Published on September 19th, 2013

Bookshots: 'Carnival' by Rawi Hage

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review



Who wrote it?

IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, McAuslan First Book Prize, and two time Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction winner Rawi Hage, author of De Niro's Game and Cockroach.

Plot in a box:

Hage has a unique perspective on the immigrant experience, crafting characters and situations that are both foreign and quintessentially Western.

A son of the circus drives a taxi around an unnamed metropolis.

Invent a new title for this book:

The Pilgrim, Chapter 33

Read this if you liked: 

Hage's previous work, linguistic gymnastics, circus freaks, Taxi Driver.

Meet the book's lead:

Fly, a voracious reader, amateur philosopher, and chronic masturbator.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Naveen Andrews, who played Sayid in Lost and Juliette Binoche's lovely-locked lover in The English Patient.

Setting: Would you want to live here?

I've seen different reviews reference the city Carnival takes place in as either North American or Latin American. For me, it has traces of New York City and Montreal, both of which Hage purportedly drove a cab in according to disagreeing profiles. Since I live in Queens and work in Manhattan I'd have to say yes, I would want to live there. Chances are, I already do.

What was your favorite sentence?

When they come to you with prophets and promises of heavens of honey and milk, remember that we are no more than flowers having our last glance at the world before we die, with grace and with gratitude for the wonders we witnessed, for the magic box we built, the animals we loved, the carpets we flew, the stars that we encountered after the spectacle ended and the spectators were left to lament and to wait for the coming of their phantom trains to take them to their imaginary heaven...

The Verdict: 

English isn't Hage's first language. It isn't even his second. Yet he has such masterful control over it. Fly's first person narration is acrobatic and lyrical and prone to fantastical literary digressions. As such, the episodic plot is secondary. If you're the type of person who gets into a cab and insists on telling the driver where to go, Carnival might not be for you. But if you aren't in a rush and don't mind taking the scenic route, by all means, flag Hage down and enjoy the ride. 

Be forewarned: you're going to have to travel through some rough neighborhoods. Carnival is steeped in the criminal element, but it isn't a crime novel. Fly is at times a pimp and a pusher, but he's also a prophet and a philosopher. He is a lover and a great lover of self. As one character remarked, flipping through a book on his shelf, I have nothing against masturbation, but don't you think the act is a bit overdone in this novel? This could be Hage beating critics to the punch; a wry, self-referential wink. For Fly, masturbation is storytelling, and when he climaxes, surrounded by his books, flying on his father's magic carpet, it is both literal and metaphoric.

Carnival revels in the written word, with a lust that mirrors Fly's own, for both literature and life. Hage has a unique perspective on the immigrant experience, crafting characters and situations that are both foreign and quintessentially Western. It's about the journey, not the destination, and the book is a joy to read.

Get Carnival at Amazon

About the author

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at and

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