Writers, Readers Grieve Syrian Novelist Khaled Khalifa (1964-2023)

Shock and grief met news of the passing of beloved, award-winning Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa, a fierce critic of injustice, keen-eyed polemicist, gifted novelist, avid cook, and warm human being.

He was just 59.

Khalifa was born near Aleppo in 1964 and studied law at Aleppo University. He was one of the founders of ALEPH magazine, which was soon shut down by government censors, an experience that would be repeated in his long and storied writing career. He was active in the arts and cultural scene in Damascus, and wrote screenplays for television and cinema as well as his award-winning novels.

His In Praise of Hatred made the first-ever shortlist of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and while — unjustly — he never won the prize, his No Knives in the Kitchens of This City was also shortlisted.

Four of Khalifa’s novels have been published in award-winning English translation, all Englished by Leri Price: In Praise of Hatred, No Knives in the Kitchens of This CityDeath is Hard Work, and, most recently, No One Prayed Over Their Graves, for which Khalifa and Price have been recognized by a wide range of literary prizes, including the Banipal, the National Translation Award, the National Book Award for Translated Literature, and others.

Khalifa’s agent, Yasmina Jraissati, has written a moving reflection over at the agency’s website. In part:

When we first met years ago, I told you how poetic, colorful, sensual, moving and electric I felt your novel “Notebooks of the bohemians” was, that this is the kind of novel I wanted to push in translation. You told me to wait and see, that together we would let your books conquer the hearts of the world.

And so they did.

We will have more to remember Khalifa in the coming days and weeks; in the meantime, we take comfort in re-watching Lina Sinjab’s “Exiled at Home“ a short film featuring Khalifa, in which he says: “But I still have hope. I don’t know where it comes from.”