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Death Is Hard Work

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  1,373 ratings  ·  334 reviews
A dogged, absurd quest through the nightmare of the Syrian civil war

Khaled Khalifa's Death Is Hard Work is the new novel from the greatest chronicler of Syria's ongoing and catastrophic civil war: a tale of three ordinary people facing down the stuff of nightmares armed with little more than simple determination.

Abdel Latif, an old man from the Aleppo region, dies
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published February 12th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2016)
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may ❀
book #1 for #ReadTheMiddleEast readathon (yes, i'm taking part of two readathons at the same time, someone help me)

i'm really disappointed at how this turned out for me. this is a harrowing tale of three siblings, in present day syria, traveling with their father's body back to their hometown in order to bury him there to fulfill his dying wish.

and honestly, i expected so much more from this book

for sure, my biggest issue was with the writing. the story continuously breaks off into tangents,
This novel is a gorgeous meditation on death, grief, family, and war. It seems like it wouldn't take very long since essentially, the main plot of the book is this sibling trio taking their father's body to a town 2.5 hours away that'll take a bit longer due to the ongoing civil war in Syria. However, the reader doesn't just get to see the family dynamics between the siblings in the car; we're treated to their pasts and how they've shaped these people into who they are at the time the novel ...more
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
I wanted to read this because it is set in present day Syria. It relates to three siblings trying to get their father’s body back to his hometown for burial. Unfortunately, the story is a little too meandering and unfocused for my tastes.
Apr 04, 2019 rated it did not like it
I’m not finished and that’s that. Reading this book is hard work. I’m off to better books.
This novel, set in present day Syria, is my translated book for the month. It turned out to be another example of Death Bed Lit. In fact, it could be the Syrian version of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.

Abdel Latif, an elderly man from a village near Aleppo, lays dying in a Damascus hospital with his son Bolbol standing by. The old man extracts from Bolbol a promise to make sure he is buried in the family plot back in their village, Anabiya.

Anabiya is just a few hours drive from Damascus. How
Pablo Alejandro
Dec 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the best novels I have read this year. The narrative shifting from present to presenting the background of all characters, its lack of sentimentalism, a very hard thing to achieve given the topic, the description of Syrian situation with an astonishing neutral/realistic though not unconcerned tone. I only disliked the fact that the female character is not really explained throughout the book and you don't really get to know her, or only as kind of mediator between both brothers.
Paul Fulcher
Oct 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
It’s hard to admit your emptiness after half a century of delusion, to be reduced to a suppurating mass giving out foul odors.

Translated by Leri Price from Khaled Khalifa's original, Death Is Hard Work tells the story of three siblings taking their father's body from Damascus to his home village of Anabiya, around 70km from Aleppo, to be buried alongside his sister in the ancestral plot. A journey that would normally be routine - except Syria is suffering under a internecine civil war, and the
Dec 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, duty-finish
I really wanted to like this novel more, but it was just unbelievably monotonous.
I'm not sure how much that might be due to the translation or my lack of knowledge regarding Syrian culture and literature, but the narrative pace was really punishingly slow. The timeline was broken up into such small fragments, constantly jumping back and forth, that I got never really involved in the story.
Direct speech is almost completely missing and combined with the similarly paced sentences, it took all
Dec 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Translated works can be cumbersome to read. The translator has a colossal job of getting ideas and thought along with words from one culture to another. The Arabic culture is different in many ways from American culture. Translator Leri Price is the amazing translator of author Khaled Khalifa’s new novel “Death is Hard Work.” This is a short novel, a mere 180 pages. Yet, each sentence is complex and full of information and nuances that requires careful reading and rereading. There is so much ...more
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am thinking this may be one of my top ten this year and as such I want to fill the review with superlatives reflecting my enjoyment. But one thing I noticed having finished the book, was the number of mixed and poor reviews. I am not sure whether the other reviewers and I came to the novel with different expectations, but for me the novel succeeded on multiple levels and was a five star read. So rather than write superlatives, I will try and note a few reasons I liked the book.

First, it
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Having promised his dying father, Abdel Latif, that he will transport his body back to his hometown for burial, Bolbol enlists the help of his estranged brother Hussein and sister Fatima to carry out Abdel Latif’s wishes. But this simple promise is complicated by the fact that they are in Syria in the midst of a civil war, and the trip that they optimistically believe will take a day soon becomes a nightmarish odyssey where they are detained, questioned, bombed and imprisoned—all while their ...more
Pretty stunning. Who would think simply taking a father's body to his home village should be so hard, after all - it's typically just a two-hour drive.

But Syria is a war zone, so the plan is more difficult than Bolbol/Nabil intially intends. There is much to love here -- the sibling relationships, the political situation brilliantly portrayed through one family's "simple" task, the land of Syria itself, everything is truly beautifully portrayed. I picked this up just because of the title/blurb
Dec 02, 2019 rated it liked it
I had no idea what reading this book would be like. Three siblings in Syria in 2015 are trying to get their father's corpse from Damascus to Anabiya to bury him and the difficulty of a journey in war-torn Syria becomes almost impossible.

The civil war permeates this book, along with the memories of each member of the family of their lives before and during the war. The siblings are not close. During the spells on the road where travel is not so difficult (although the stench of the putrifying
May 10, 2019 marked it as dnf
I gave this more than forty pages and then gave up. I kept falling asleep while reading it. That doesn’t necessarily mean the book put me to sleep. My days of teaching are taxing and this week was state testing which is somehow more exhausting than teaching. Maybe this was the wrong book at the wrong time.

The premise definitely is interesting: a son is fulfilling his father’s dying wish of burying him at the same cemetery where his sister is buried. The problem is the story is set in war torn
Apr 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is one of the most quietly devastating things I've read in a long time. It takes place in present-day Syria and tells the story of three estranged siblings who come together to carry out their father's final wish. He wants to be buried in the village he was born in. The two brothers and their sister load up his body into a minibus and embark on a journey from Damascus to Anabiya that should take two and a half hours. But the journey through countless checkpoints, delays due to shelling ...more
Sarah Furger
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was gorgeous but tough to get through for the sensitive among us (me). The best comparison from western lit would probably be “All Quiet on the Western Front” - heartbreaking and raw. Brilliant writing. I’m embarrassed to say that this is my first book by Khalid Khalifa but it will certainly not be the last.
Tom Hughes
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. Wonderfully difficult and humane. A vivid picture of life and death in Syria, with thankfully fleshed out characters. I know nothing of the country, but Khalifa articulates here a sharp and very harsh world with fantastic complexity and doubt, and if it's one of which I shudder to think. Eye opening.
Hákon Gunnarsson
Wars are probably never simple affairs, but the Syrian civil war seems more complicated than most of the wars that have been in the news in the last decades. It is a civil war, and a proxy war. This novel is set in that horribly, complicated situation.

When Abdul Latif is dying of old age he makes his son Bolbol promise him that he will be buried in his hometown Anabiya. Bolbol gets his brother Hussein, and his sister Fatima to take this trip with him even though they haven’t been close since
Catherine at The Gilmore Guide to Books
Bolbol's father has just died in Damascus. Before he did, he made one final request of his son-he wants to be buried in the family's plot in his hometown. It's two hours away and without thinking Bolbol agrees. It's only as he's contacting his sister, Fatima, and his brother, Hussein, that the enormity of his promise hits him. This is Syria, a country being destroyed by its government's attacks on its own citizens. In Khaled Khalifa's Death is Hard Work what would once have been a quick trip ...more
Oct 27, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was a little disappointed with this read. I thought that the writing style was a bit odd. The third person narrative works when the author talks about the past and explains the backstories of these characters but it just doesn't work for the present timeline of the book. To me, the narrative distance me from understanding the emotions & motives of the characters. It feels like a lot of complexities were glazed over.

Although now that I think about it, it might be that it was intentional.
Andy Weston
May 20, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a strangely attractive concoction of a road trip stroke life during wartime novel, and a glimpse into modern day Syria, with a feeling that maybe you shouldn’t be looking at their suffering, a bit like the compulsion to look at a road accident on the opposite carriageway.
On his death bed Bolbol has promised his father that he would bury him in the family plot several hours drive away across the county. As alluring the premise is, there is only so much about the background of Bolbol and
Mrs. Danvers
This odyssey with a rotting corpse reminded me of Kafka and some of the old existentialist novels, like The Woman in the Dunes, but it has an interiority missing from those.
Mar 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Entrancing in its own sparse, brutal way. Major themes of death and the inexorable dehumanizing effects of war on an entire population were only to be expected in a chronicle of the Syrian civil war.
This book is about three siblings in modern day Syria trying to fulfill their father's dying wish to be buried in the town he grew up with, where is sister is buried. The trip, which would take only a few hours in peace-time, is a multi-day journey through dangerous, war-torn Syria. While the horrors of war is the back drop of this story, it is primarily a story about ordinary people trying to live their lives amidst the war. The trio have to maneuver through areas controlled by both sides of ...more
Jaclyn Crupi
Apr 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Bolbol’s father, on his death bed in Damascus, asks to be buried in the family plot in Aleppo – just a two-hour drive away. Bolbol’s siblings join him on this quest to fulfill their father’s dying wish. The main problem of course is that Syria is a war zone. The absurdity, violence and brutality they encounter works as a kind of front-line reportage of life in contemporary Syria and it’s heartbreaking. It may have been the translation or Khalifa’s style but the writing didn’t fully win me over, ...more
Apr 28, 2019 rated it liked it
As I Lay Dying in Syria.
Ann Helen
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The main character in Khaled Khalifa’s book, Bobol, is tasked with carrying out his dead father’s last wish of being buried in the village he used to call home, Anabiya. Under normal circumstances this amounts to a two hour drive, but this is war torn Syria where a short journey can take days, and where you’ll be lucky to get past the numerous check points, avoid bombs and bullets, find roads that aren’t closed and make it to the village before the body completely decomposes.

The first thing that
Barred Owl Books
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A dogged, absurd quest through the nightmare of the Syrian civil war

Khaled Khalifa’s Death Is Hard Work is the new novel from the greatest chronicler of Syria’s ongoing and catastrophic civil war: a tale of three ordinary people facing down the stuff of nightmares armed with little more than simple determination.

Abdel Latif, an old man from the Aleppo region, dies peacefully in a hospital bed in Damascus. His final wish, conveyed to his youngest son, Bolbol, is to be buried in the family plot in
Feb 22, 2019 rated it liked it
This novel follows three siblings on their journey to bury their father in his home village in war torn Syria. They encounter checkpoints, soldiers, rebels, old family friends and old memories along the way. They also have to face the fact that they have drifted apart from one another and the realization that they may not drift back.

This one was a little tough for me to rate. I thought the plot was solid. It's an interesting story and probably not one that many western readers would be familiar
Ryan Mishap
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novel
The brutal cruelty of the violence in Syria is the all too real world of this novel. The mind-smashing and relentless, careless depravity and degradation of all that makes us human is on display here, somewhat diffused through the lens of art.

Can I recommend this? Yes. We can hear and see the news stories, but comprehension of what is happening in Syria can more easily be attained through novels like this. As an outsider with no experience of the grind of war, I'm sure I missed much of the dark
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Arabic: خالد خليفة

Khaled Khalifa was born in 1964, in a village close to Aleppo, Syria. He is the fifth child of a family of thirteen siblings.

He studied law at Aleppo University and actively participated in the foundation of Aleph magazine with a group of writers and poets. A few months later, the magazine was closed down by Syrian censorship.

He currently lives in Damascus where he writes scripts
“في الحرب مرور جنازة حدث عادي لا يثير اي شئ سوى حسد الأحياء الذين تحولت حياتهم الى إنتظار مؤلم للموت” 15 likes
“السجن قادر على قتلك، والشخص الذي يخرج ليس أنت بالضرورة، رغم أنّ له عينيك وتسريحة شعرك” 9 likes
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