Celebrated Syrian writer, poet and screenwriter Khaled Khalifa dies aged 59

Celebrated Syrian writer, poet and screenwriter Khaled Khalifa dies aged 59

Syrian writer, poet and screenwriter Khaled Khalifa, whose novels set in Aleppo memorialised a metropolis ruined by civil warfare, has died aged 59.

The author died from cardiac arrest at his house in Damascus, a detailed buddy informed the French information company AFP.

Khalifa was considered one of Syria’s most celebrated up to date novelists, although his six novels had been banned within the nation. “A poet of a single metropolis, and thru it a nation, his dedication to his homeland, to interrogating its historical past and welcoming his readers to really feel that historical past, was outstanding,” mentioned Alex Bowler, writer at Faber, the UK writer of Khalifa’s work.

“This was coupled along with his steadfast dedication to the freedoms and energy of literature, regardless of the censorship and suppression he encountered,” he added. “Due to this he leaves a physique of labor that may final. However it can’t diminish at the moment from the pure unhappiness we really feel at his sudden passing.”

“What a loss for Arab literature,” Layla AlAmmar, writer of Silence Is a Sense and The Pact We Made, posted on Twitter. “Khaled Khalifa was a large and had a lot extra left to present.”

“He leaves books that will likely be learn as long as there are Syrians,” added Robin Yassin-Kassab, writer of The Highway from Damascus.

Khalifa was born in 1964 and grew up within the outskirts of Aleppo, attending the town’s college. He completed a novel whereas finding out, however he destroyed it as a result of he felt it borrowed too closely from different authors’ voices.

His first printed novel, Haris al-Khadi’a (The Guard of Deception), got here out in 1993. He printed a second novel in 2000, nevertheless it was his third novel, In Reward of Hatred, printed in 2006, that introduced him worldwide consideration. It was translated to English by Leri Value – who would go on to translate three additional Khalifa novels – in 2012.

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In Praise of Hatred is set in 1980s Aleppo, against the backdrop of the conflict between the Assad regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, and centres on a young girl who turns towards fundamentalism. The novel was shortlisted for the International prize for Arabic fiction in 2008.

His fourth novel, No Knives in the Kitchens of This City, won the Naguib Mahfouz literature prize, a prestigious Egyptian award, in 2013. It was also shortlisted for the International prize for Arabic fiction. The birth of the novel’s narrator coincides with the 1963 Ba’athist coup, and the book follows friends, family, enemies and lovers back and forth across three generations. “This multiple focus and enormous scope turns the setting, Aleppo, into the novel’s central character,” wrote Yassin-Kassab in his Guardian review.

Though the writer moved to Damascus in the late 1990s and tried to write about the Syrian capital, “after 50 pages” he “felt it was not good writing,” he told the Observer in a July 2023 interview. “I don’t know the fragrance of Damascus. So I turned back to Aleppo, and I accepted: OK, this is my place. I’ll write all my books about Aleppo. She is my city and resides deep in myself, in my soul.”

Khalifa’s fifth book, Death Is Hard Work, is set three years into the civil war, and chronicles a journey taken by three siblings who embark on a 350km road trip to bury their father. The novel was a National Book award finalist for translated literature in 2019.

In 2012, Khalifa was beaten when members of the shabiha militia and plainclothes security forces dispersed a funeral procession he was participating in. “My left hand is broken. I write with my right hand, but typing on the computer is difficult now,” the author said at the time.

His sixth novel, No One Prayed Over Their Graves, was published in July this year. Set between 1880 and 1950, the novel follows the friendship between two men, one Muslim and one Christian, as the world around them transforms and tragedy strikes.

Khalifa was also an accomplished screenwriter. His first screenplay, The Story of Al-Jalali, was released as a TV series directed by Haitham Hakki. Rainbow, City Folks and Relative Quietness followed, the latter focusing on the experiences of Arab journalists during the Iraq war.

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