Khaled Khalifa: books to celebrate Syria’s literary titan

Khaled Khalifa: books to celebrate Syria’s literary titan

The impactful legacy of Khaled Khalifa and his must-read books, showcases his fearless voice and Syrian storytelling.

by Suswati Basu
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Khaled Khalifa (خالد خليفة) was a distinguished Syrian novelist, screenwriter, and poet who etched an indelible mark on the global literary landscape with his books. With a career decorated with literary accolades, international renown, and an unwavering commitment to portraying the human experience amid the tumultuous backdrop of his homeland, Khalifa’s passing on 30th September 2023, at the age of 59, leaves a void in contemporary Arabic literature that will prove formidable to fill.

Khaled Khalifa seen in black jacket and blue shirt against a black background as he leaves a legacy of books following his death.
Khaled Khalifa leaves a legacy of important books. Credit: Internaz (Francesco Alesi)
Read: Syrian civil war books: ten years on after Ghouta chemical attack

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the publisher of his most recent work “No One Prayed Over Their Graves: A Novel” said: “Khaled has over the years become known as the greatest chronicler of Syrian life and of Syria’s ongoing and catastrophic civil war.”

Khaled Khalifa’s books: exploring Syria through his pen

Born in Maryamin, a village near Aleppo, Syria, Khalifa embarked on his literary odyssey after studying law at Aleppo University. Though his early literary efforts may have lingered in relative obscurity, it was his third novel, “In Praise of Hatred” (2006), that catapulted him into the international spotlight. This novel unfurls the narrative of a young woman ensnared in the intricate web of political activism in Syria. Its unflinching portrayal of the nation’s repressive political apparatus earned it critical acclaim and established Khalifa as a fearless voice against authoritarianism.

Throughout his career, Khalifa also continued to plumb the depths of Syrian society’s complex tapestry. “No Knives in the Kitchens of This City” (2013) unfolds against the backdrop of Aleppo and provides an illuminating peek into the lives of everyday Syrians as they navigate the tumultuous waters of political and social upheaval. It offers a poignant exploration of the impact of dictatorship and repression on individuals and families, resonating with readers worldwide.

Death Is Hard Work” (2016) stands as another jewel in Khalifa’s creative crown. This novel traces the journey of three siblings as they strive to bury their deceased family member during the Syrian civil war. It paints a vivid picture of the daunting challenges and harrowing dangers they confront along the way, offering a heart-rending glimpse into the indomitable spirit of humanity.

Khalifa’s works have transcended linguistic boundaries, with translations available in over twenty languages. His literary prowess earned him prestigious awards, including the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature. His steadfast criticism of the Syrian government and its handling of the civil war underscored his unwavering commitment to truth and justice. Remarkably, he chose to remain in Syria throughout the conflict, a poignant testament to his unwavering devotion to his homeland.

Khalifa’s last gift – “No One Prayed Over Their Graves”

Consequently, his novels continue to serve as fountains of enlightenment and empathy, illuminating the tumultuous history and unwavering spirit of Syria.

In addition to Khalifa’s renowned works, we recommend delving into his most recent novel, “No One Prayed Over Their Graves: A Novel,” published in July 2023. Set in Aleppo at the turn of the twentieth century, this sweeping historical fiction weaves a mesmerising narrative centred around two friends, Hanna and Zakariya, whose lives are irrevocably altered by a catastrophic flood that ravages their village. Khalifa’s storytelling prowess shines through once again in this evocative tale of resilience and human connection.

As we bid farewell to Khaled Khalifa, we find ourselves left with a treasury of books that continues to inspire and enlighten readers across the globe. His works will forever serve as a poignant reminder of the enduring power of literature to illuminate the human condition, even in the darkest of times.

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