Death Is Hard Work

A novel by Khaled Khalifa.

Khaled Khalifa, trans. by Leri Price

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 proveto have enormous consequences for all of them. (From Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Death is Hard Work is available in February 2019.

From the book

Two hours before he died, Abdel Latif al-Salim looked his son Bolbol straight in the eye with as much of his remaining strength as he could muster and repeated his request to be buried in the cemetery of Anabiya. After all this time, he said, his bones would rest in hometown beside his sister Layla; he almost added, Beside her scent, but he wasn't sure that the dead would smell the same after four decades. He considered these few words his last wish and added nothing that might render them the least bit ambiguous. Resolved to be silent in his last hours, he closed his eyes, ignoring the people around him, and sank into solitude with a smile. He thought of Nevine; her smile, her scent, her naked body wrapped in a black abaya as she tried to float like the butterflies they were collecting. He remembered how his eyes shone at that moment, how his heart had thudded, how his knees trembled, how he carried her to the bed and kissed her greedily, but before he could recall every moment of that "night of immortal secrets," as they'd secretly dubbed that particular evening, he died.

From Death is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa, trans. by Leri Price ©2019. Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.