Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa

Death Is Hard Work

Khaled Khalifa

A Kafka-style waking nightmare, but this is Syria now, with the black absurdity of everyday life being much rarer than everyday death. The style borders on current affairs commentary, the dry facts matching dried-out emotions: when all feeling has gone, the corpses by the roadside have less significance than the concrete blocks by the militia checkpoints. Choose this to challenge just how much human sympathy can you spare.


The cell was crowded with more than twenty people of different ages. One of them, a woman of about seventy, told Fatima without being asked that she was being held hostage in her son's stead, who had deserted from the army last year. Another, a young man of around twenty, missing a hand, told them that the Mukhabarat suspected him of having lost his hand fighting as an insurgent, and not in a car accident years before. He added that he and the two friends he was sitting with there in the improvised holding cell had been on their way to catch a boat from Turkey to Greece, intending to travel from there to Sweden. He'd never believed their journey would be as simple as that, particularly as their lives were bound to their identity cards, which showed their place of residence as Baba Amr, in the city of Homs. Like all young men from Baba Amr, one of the first places where revolution broke out and which was punished by merciless bombardment as a result, they had gotten accustomed to being stopped at every checkpoint. Meanwhile, other prisoners were snoring loudly or staring silently into the shadowy corners of their cell, their expressions making plain their sense of degradation. They had been here for some time, and bruises from beatings could be seen on their faces.

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