Remembering a Giant: 5 by Khaled Khalifa

On September 30, 2023, Syrian novelist and screenwriter Khaled Khalifa died suddenly, reportedly of cardiac arrest, at age 59.

Khalifa — one of the towering and beloved literary voices of our time — was author of six novels, four of which have appeared in English, all translated by Leri Price. He also wrote popular and beloved screenplays, works of memoir, and straightforward, stripped-bare statements about the situation in Syria. Earlier this week, we shared “Exiled at Home“ a short film by Lina Sinjab featuring Khalifa and a moving reflection by Khalifa’s literary agent Yasmina Jraissati, published at the agency’s website.

Today, five works by Khaled Khalifa, in English translation.

1. An excerpt from the novel Death is Hard Work, tr. Leri Price

It opens: “Two hours before he died, Abdel Latif al-Salim looked his son Bolbol straight in the eye with as much of his remaining strength as he could muster and repeated his request to be buried in the cemetery of Anabiya. After all this time, he said, his bones would rest in his hometown beside his sister Layla; he almost added, Beside her scent, but he wasn’t sure that the dead would smell the same after four decades. He considered these few words his last wish and added nothing that might render them the least bit ambiguous.” Read it on LitHub.

2. Living in a void: life in Damascus after the exodustr. Jonathan Wright

It opens: “My sister, whom I haven’t seen for more than two years, told me she was going to cross the sea in a rubber dinghy. She hung up, not wanting to hear what I thought. She merely said something profound and sentimental and entrusted her three children to my care in the event that she drowned. A few minutes later I tried to call the unfamiliar Turkish number back, but the phone had been turned off. Hundreds of images from our childhood flooded my memory. It’s not easy to say goodbye to half a century of your life and wait for someone you love to drown.” Read it at The Guardian.

3. An excerpt from the novel No Knives in the Kitchens of This Citytr. Leri Price

It opens: “On my way hOme I recalled that my mother was not yet sixty-five when she died so suddenly. I was secretly glad and considered it ten years too late, given her constant complaints of a lack of oxygen. My uncle Nizar told me that she rose in the afternoon from her putrid bed and started writing a long letter to an unknown person, who we thought may have been a lover or an old friend, and with whom she passed long hours talking about days past that no longer meant anything to any- one—days into which my mother had settled during her final years and had no wish to relinquish.” Read it on the Hoopoe Fiction website.

4. Letter From Syriatr. Addie Leak

From the letter: “The blindness that has stricken the world has encouraged the regime’s attempt to eliminate the peaceful Syrian revolution with a repressive force that is unrivaled.” Read it at The Huffington Post. 

5. An excerpt from the novel No One Prayed Over Their Gravestr. Leri Price

It opens: “The village of Hosh Hanna was completely silent when the storm hit and the Great Flood rose.

“Within a few short hours, the houses of the small village were destroyed, its inhabitants drowned in their rags. No one survived apart from Shaha Sheikh Musa, wife of Zakariya Bayazidi, and Mariana Nassar. The two women clung to the trunk of a walnut tree caught between the iron columns of the lighthouse that guided boats through the depths of the river. Some fishermen rescued them and took them to a house in a nearby village, and by dawn, everything had quieted down.” Read it at the MacMillan website.