Death Is Hard Work

Finalist, National Book Awards 2019 for Translated Literature

ISBN 9780374135737
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan Publishers |
Khaled Khalifa

Khaled Khalifa was born in 1964 near Aleppo, Syria. He studied law at Aleppo University and actively participated in the foundation of ALEPH magazine with a group of writers and poets. More about this author >

Leri Price

Leri Price is an award-winning literary translator of contemporary Arabic fiction. She has twice been a Finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature, both in 2021 for her translations of Samar Yazbek’s Planet of Clay, and in 2019 for Khaled Khalifa’s Death Is Hard Work. More about this author >

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From the publisher:

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 their ancestral village of Anabiya. Though Abdel was hardly an ideal father, and though Bolbol is estranged from his siblings, this conscientious son persuades his older brother Hussein and his sister Fatima to accompany him and the body to Anabiya, which is—after all—only a two-hour drive from Damascus.

There’s only one problem: Their country is a war zone.

With the landscape of their childhood now a labyrinth of competing armies whose actions are at once arbitrary and lethal, the siblings’ decision to set aside their differences and honor their father’s request quickly balloons from a minor commitment into an epic and life-threatening quest. Syria, however, is no longer a place for heroes, and the decisions the family must make along the way—as they find themselves captured and recaptured, interrogated, imprisoned, and bombed—will prove to have enormous consequences for all of them.

Judges Citation

This novel by the Damascus-based writer Khaled Khalifa takes the reader on a Dantean journey into the inferno of the Syrian civil war. Describing what in peacetime would be a simple drive across the country, Death Is Hard Work shows the terrible pressures that war exerts on ideas, on families, and even on the dead. Rendered in Leri Price's crystalline translation, it is a warm, humorous, melancholy, and terrifying book, a human document of an inhumane time.