... masterly ... That’s the power of mass violence: its ability to transform specific loss into general loss, numbing our collective consciousness. This is why novelists like Khalifa are so critical in these times. They give us a story, and stories are specific ... Many fine American writers have claimed the mantle of Faulkner’s successor through their chronicling of life in the South. But Faulkner wasn’t writing only about the South. He was writing about civil war, too. With Death Is Hard Work, Khaled Khalifa has, intentionally or not, also laid claim to that title.
... astonishing ...The journey recalls Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, the long last ride of Addie Bundren; like Faulkner too, Khalifa employs a shifting array of voices and reflections, moving from perspective to perspective, present to past and back again. The effect is a persistent deepening, as stories are introduced and then revisited, details added through the play of memory ... The power of the novel... is that it unfolds within a human context, which pushes against and resists the prevailing social one. What other option do we have?
Mr. Khalifa skillfully condenses the trip’s detours and delays into a breakneck narrative that seems unstoppably tilted toward tragedy ... The living have the wheel in this unforgettable book, but it’s the dead—and those doing everything in their power to join them—who give the directions.
Death Is Hard Work is a short book, but one learns more detail of the life of war than from a hundred newspaper and TV reports. By its end the pages smell of death ... The story is introverted like its characters. Yet at the same time it will produce extroverted thoughts among the readers. They will be transported out of their armchairs or subway seats—wherever they read—into a Syrian world that would be unfathomable without writing such as this. This book must be read. Not just because there is no other serious novel that has come out of the war but because it is a first-class piece of literature.
Many Western readers will find Khaled Khalifa’s new novel unbearably grim ... Death Is Hard Work moves in a way similar to the war it chronicles—mercilessly over the bones of its victims ... Frequently and without warning, the novel strays from the present-day narrative into the histories, dreams and frustrations of its central characters. The result is something at the intersection of Faulkner and Kafka, a modern-day As I Lay Dying passed through the lens of maddening bureaucracy, hypocrisy and slaughter. Readers looking for optimism or resolution need look elsewhere. Readers who want an unflinching account of one of recent history’s bloodiest civil wars will find in Khalifa’s latest work a story superficially colored by the many manifestations of death, but chiefly concerned with what a miraculous, Herculean thing it is to simply live.