A review by Marcia Lynx Qualey, for The National , September 21, 2016
Khaled Khalifa’s No Knives in the Kitchens of This City, like his acclaimed novel In Praise of Hatred (2013), is guided by a single powerful emotion. While In Praise tracks hatred as it seethes in and around Aleppo, No Knives, also translated by Leri Price, quickens around shame.
But Khalifa’s fourth novel, shortlisted for the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, doesn’t judge its characters. It simply follows its destructive path as it spreads, like a blight, through Aleppo. One character even writes a short book, “On Shame and its By-Products in Syrian Life”.
In the 1960s, the central family are proudly middle-class: Ibtihal is buoyed by the family’s Ottoman ancestry; Nizar is an accomplished musician; and the family’s elegant matriarch an accomplished teacher. She falls in love with a villager, and together they have four children: Suad, Sawsan, Rashid and the narrator.
Slowly, shame eats away at the characters’ lives (…)
At the heart of Khalifa’s book is a serious question: in a world steeped in shame, and in fear of standing out, is it possible for individual freedom to survive? Nizar manages to be true to himself, but in this fictive Aleppo few others do so.
M Lynx Qualey is a freelance writer based in Cairo who blogs at arablit.wordpress.com.