A finalist for the 2019 National Book Award, this new novel from a 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.
... 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?
Khalifa is a soulful and perfectly unsentimental writer. This helps fortify his work against glib resolutions and make it more wildly ready for life’s raw light and that unrelenting human desire to live it. Notwithstanding its title, his fifth novel is more about life than death. Leri Price, who has translated Khalifa before, is alive and faithful to the Syrian’s unadorned and direct prose, sentences that often bring together the poetic and the horrific ... A civil war is a national tragedy, but it is also, and perhaps most poignantly, a personal trial. The most amazing thing about this book is that it managed to exist, that it came to us out of the fire with its pages intact. It is robust in its doubts, humane in its gaze and gentle in its persistence.