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Death is Hard Work Reviews

Death is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa

Death Is Hard Work

Khaled Khalifa

3.71 out of 5

4 reviews

Category: Fiction
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publication date: 7 Mar 2019
ISBN: 9780571346042

Abdel Latif, an old man, dies peacefully in a hospital bed in Damascus. Before he dies, he tells his youngest son Bolbol that his final wish is to be buried in the family plot in their ancestral village of Anabiya in the Aleppo region.

  • The GuardianBook of the Day
4 stars out of 5
10 May 2019

"The most amazing thing about this book is that it managed to exist, that it came to us out of the fire with its pages intact"

The book is interested inthat blindness of fate and the accidental nature of life, as well as the extent to which an individual can sustain his or her ambivalence in the face of a civil war. Confronted with binary choices, doubt is an active position. Bolbol is not for the opposition or the regime. Instead, his main enemy is fear. ... A civil war is a national tragedy, but it is also, and perhaps most poignantly, a personal trial. The most amazing thing about this book is that it managed to exist, that it came to us out of the fire with its pages intact. It is robust in its doubts, humane in its gaze and gentle in its persistence.


3 stars out of 5
André Naffis Sahely
10 May 2019

"intensely readable"

Leri Price, who has to date translated all of Khalifa’s books into English, retains the original’s sharpness and a pacy tone that recalls other Arab political novels, in particular Fadhil Al Azzawi’s Cell Block Five (2008). As such, and despite its relentlessly bleak subject matter, Death Is Hard Work is intensely readable. As the pages turn, one is impelled to keep up with the al-Salim siblings as they race against time — literally, given that their father’s body is rapidly decomposing, filling the back of the minivan with maggots... Although the ending feels slightly abrupt, this novel achieves a narrative cohesion perhaps not fully realised in Khalifa’s previous work, No Knives in the Kitchens of This City (2016), which was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for its chronicling of life in Aleppo in the mid-to-late 20th century. Wryly compelling, despite the author’s pessimistic outlook, Death Is Hard Work may be Khalifa’s finest achievement yet, movingly conveying the fear, paranoia and hardships of life in an embattled police state.

4 stars out of 5
9 Apr 2019

"Khaled Khalifa's most recent Damascan satire"

The family dynamic is examined forensically, as more and more information seeps out in flashbacks about the lives that their father had wanted them to lead. He himself had cast off all such constraints towards the end of his own life, running around chasing butterflies with Nevine, his new young love, oblivious to the danger of bombs. His putrefying corpse mirrors his family’s fraying relationships, as well as the corruption of the Syrian state, the cadaver’s passage through the checkpoints eased only by ever-increasing backhanders. Death, in Khaled Khalifa’s telling, really is hard work.

4 stars out of 5
21 Mar 2019

"a hugely brave undertaking"

All of which makes his fifth novel, Death Is Hard Work, a hugely brave undertaking, presenting as it does an unflinching portrait of daily life in his native land – a place where, after years of fighting, otherwise unimaginable horrors have come to seem mundane.