RaveColumbia Journal... stunning ... neon and imaginative language anchored in historical and cultural questions of representation, othering, inclusion and exclusion ... Mao is doing the necessary work of interrogating the two-dimensionality of screens, its tendency to flatten the representation of those who, in real life, are already flattened in society: minorities and women ... Mao is clever in connecting this spectacle to the digital age, and the ways that constant access to the sight of someone can lead to an absence, rather than a presence – a ghostly emptiness ... These lovely questions are the Pandora’s boxes Mao’s Oculus has ambitiously opened and exploring them with Mao’s intelligent guidance is a gift itself.
Khaled Khalifa Trans. by Leri Price
RaveColumbia Journal... a masterpiece ... These are images from a nightmare, tales from dead men. And yet Khalifa, writing from Damascus and refusing to abandon it despite the mass exodus of his friends and family, has rendered these images with hyperrealism alongside a sense of poetry ... offer[s] the reader an intimate and devastating look into a Syria fractured by war, hunger, and distrust ... This is a Syria not offered by news footage nor articles, but holding the painful emotional truth of a Syrian describing what he sees as the world ends ... Even with this pervasive darkness, what struck me most about Death is Hard Work is the interplay between darkness and light. Death hovers over the whole of the book, and yet its core is flooded with light ... These moments are full of abundant beauty and tenderness, and they anchor the book in something that transcends death even as its black water rushes towards us. They offer a relief or perhaps a counterpoint to the maddening senselessness of war, even if that war holds noble aims such as the freedom of a people against a brutal dictator ... This work, although stunning, is not without its flaws. Its editing could be tighter, and there were moments where I found myself disappointed in the rendering of Fatima as a character. She is often described only as crying, and at one point, even goes mute. While Khalifa’s creation of other female characters such as the fierce feminist force of Layla, is strong, I often found Fatima to be lacking in dimension ... [Khalifa] demonstrates immense courage and artistry in staying behind to make a map of the sky falling over Syria.