From the National Book Award finalist Khaled Khalifa, the story of two friends whose lives are altered by a flood that devastates their Syrian village. On a December morning in 1907, two close friends, Hanna and Zakariya, return to their village near Aleppo after a night of drunken carousing in the city, only to discover that there has been a massive flood. Their neighbors, families, children—nearly all of them are dead. Their homes, shops, and places of worship are leveled. Their lives will never be the same.
The sensuality of his fiction is frequently related to olfaction. Few living writers pay as much attention to smell as Khalifa does ... A tension between faith and reason plays out in each of these stories. This is a secular novel about religious madness. Lives are at stake ... Nadine Gordimer said in her Paris Review interview that she didn’t mind being puzzled when reading a novel. I don’t either, generally. But Khalifa goes to great lengths to frustrate his readers. This narrative shifts back and forth in time ... The intricacies of Khalifa’s plotting, and his occasional vagueness, have led critics to compare him to Faulkner. But Faulkner’s characters feel more real than those in No One Prayed Over Their Graves. They’re earthier. Khalifa’s too often flop between stereotypes — saints or sinners, lovers or fighters ... Khalifa buries his story under a late-Rushdie-like muchness, with embellishment upon embellishment. There are prophecies and rising souls and forbidden loves; every tear is bitterly wept. There are conversions and renunciations of conversions. Your eyeballs begin to glaze over, as if they were ceramic plates. Everything is desperate, to paraphrase the old Adam Ant song, but somehow not serious.
Lush, elegiac ... So much of Khalifa’s work explores varieties of survivorship, and his characters are frequent victims of irony, sudden loss of power and bad luck. The bleak absurdity that mocked Syria’s dysfunction in Death Is Hard Work is distant here, though, exchanged for a fabulist, sometimes maximalist style that bears the stamp of Khalifa’s cited influence ... A novel of abundance and generosity ... Contemporary Syria haunts the novel from beyond its last pages, and as the book skewers the inadequacy of ritual and religious belief, it also asks how to witness and memorialize tragedy.
Spacious ... The novel reads at times like a love letter to the Syrian city where Mr. Khalifa grew up, and at times like a eulogy ... A gallery of side characters gives the book its amplitude ... It is, even so, a beautiful novel, and Mr. Khalifa’s partnership with Leri Price is one of the most fruitful writer-translator pairings in literature today.