Neue Zürcher Zeitung: Khalifa’s Death Is Hard Work is “a compelling book”

19 June 2018 157 views No Comment Email This Post Email This Post Print This Post Print This Post

Published by Neue Zürcher Zeitung, May 11, 2018

In a night-black novel Khaled Khalifa carries the dreams of his homeland to the graveA man named Nightingale. He would have to be a singer and a lover fluttering through a scenario of magical realism or an old Oriental poem. Not one, however, to whom the concern for the corpse of his father, who is already decaying, gives the feeling that he is still a creature capable of being found with a little backbone, and not merely “jelly-mass.”

Bulbul, Arabic for “nightingale,” is the central character in Khaled Khalifa’s novel “Death Is Hard Work” – a book that leads right into the heart of the Syrian war landscape. Khalifa, born in Aleppo in 1964, still lives in Damascus, although with his critical explorations of recent Syrian history, he was already in custody of censorship; his most recent work, published in the original Arabic in 2016, now bends the bow to the apocalyptic present. It describes the journey of Bulbul and his siblings Hussain and Fatima, who, according to his wishes, want to lay their dead father in his hometown.


Khaled Khalifa’s novel is a compelling book. It gives an insight into this sealed country, its inner tensions over decades.


In this night-black variation on Faulkner’s “As I lay dying” – the American is one of Khalifa’s literary house gods – the drive from Damascus to a village north of Aleppo stretches to a torturous three-day spit-race through checkpoints of varying proportions. The devastated topography of Syria is superimposed on the barren soul landscapes of the protagonists, who, as members of a politically unwelcome family, grew up in the cold shadow zone of the Assad dictatorship. Read more in German

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