June 18, 2018
Literatur Spiegel dubs Khalifa’s Death Is Hard Work “a deep black, gruesome, moving comedy from the realm of the dead”

Literatur Spiegel dubs Khalifa’s Death Is Hard Work “a deep black, gruesome, moving comedy from the realm of the dead”

Published by Literatur Spiegel, May 2018

A crazy journey with a corpse through a country at war: Khaled Khalifa’s Syrian novel Death Is Hard Work


It is very easy to tell stories during wartime. One is surrounded by monstrosities, every day a new one.

And something else – which can be found in Syrian author Khaled Khalifa’s new novel, Death Is Hard Work, now available in German.

Your ears and eyes must not tire. Not tire of all the monstrous deaths and accidents. All the stories of suffering that the people in war-torn country of Syria tell.

You just have to go around, look, listen, write. And already you have experienced a novel. It only depends on the small detail of not losing your life.

The whisper of the people “sounded like the humming in a beehive, monotonous, inexhaustible,” writes Khalifa. It reminds us of the chorus of mumbling voices of the prisoners of Bautzen, which the German writer Walter Kempowski once described as the primal experience of his writing.

Khalifa was born in Aleppo in 1964 and has been writing scripts and novels for many years. He lives in Damascus today. In SPIEGEL he wrote about his experiences in a vacant country. So many dead and so many on the run, scattered in the world or in the Mediterranean sunk. Khalifa stayed. He could not and would not live anywhere else, he wrote at that time. And if you reach him by e-mail now, he replies that he’s just waiting, like millions of other Syrians, for tomorrow to end this war. And that he has no hope at all. “We in Syria have no hope of salvation, no hope of becoming a democratic country. We are convinced that the whole world supports the Syrian government, whose continued existence is the continuity of war and devastation.”

The whole world wants this war. And literature? “Literature can not stop this war. But – we just have to go on. And stand up for the oppressed and their stories and give them strength. The winners are not always right. To expose the tyrants is our goal, and our mission is to tell the stories of those who paid such a high price.”

Bulbul is the name of the weak hero in Khalifa’s new novel. He promised his father on his deathbed in Damascus to bury his body in his home village. Unfortunately, this home village, Anabija, at the other end of the country, is just behind Aleppo. It is a crazy project. Driving a corpse through a warland. It is meaningless. If you still had power to laugh, it would be ridiculous. Read more in German