Death is Hard Work, Khaled Khalifa
(Trans; Leri Price. Pub/UK; Faber)
By Guy Mannes-Abbott
“Death had become hard work. Just as hard as living, in Bolbol’s view.” Abdel Latif al-Salim’s youngest son has promised, “in a rare moment of courage”, to honour his father’s dying wish to be buried with his sister Layla. The retired teacher and belated rebel died of natural causes in a hospital in Damascus when nothing else is natural in the middle of Syria’s uprising. Bolbol triggers the 400 kilometre drive north into Aleppo’s hinterlands, which takes 3 torturous days and ends with maggots climbing the windows of the family minibus.
Death is Hard Work is a huge novel of just 180 pages and the third of Khaled Khalifa’s to appear in English, courtesy of their translator Leri Price. In Praise of Hatred (2008) and No Knives in the Kitchens of this City (2013) were each short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, with the latter winning a prestigious Mahfouz Medal, and arrived in English in 2014 and 2016 respectively. They were preceded by two further novels, while their author has also written for television in Damascus, where he lives to this day.