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Syrian author Khaled Khalifa, a titan of contemporary Arabic literature, dies at 59

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're going to take some time now to remember Khaled Khalifa. The celebrated Syrian poet, screenwriter and novelist died late last month of cardiac arrest. He was 59 years old.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Khalifa is considered one of the most important figures in contemporary Arabic literature, known for his vivid and moving writings. And he was regarded as a wordsmith, which also made him a powerful critic of Syria's government, resulting in his work sometimes being banned.

SHAPIRO: He was once described as a weaver of worlds. Khalifa told the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in 2013 he's always been drawn to writing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KHALED KHALIFA: (Through interpreter) Ever since I was a child, my only project has been to write, and naturally, there was a price to pay for a young man who wanted to become a writer. Writing always got you in trouble.

SUMMERS: Khalifa was born in the outskirts of Aleppo, a city nearly destroyed during the height of Syria's brutal civil war. He laid bare the anguish wrought by the conflict in a 2016 novel titled "Death Is Hard Work."

SHAPIRO: It tells the story of three siblings who embark on a dangerous journey through the war-torn country. In this translated passage, a bereaved mother mourns her son, who was killed during the conflict, and her grief hardens into a cold rage.

ISAAC ABU ZAANONA, BYLINE: (Through interpreter) Victory in the revolution meant nothing to her anymore other than the chance of seeing her son's murderers dragged through the streets. She was gripped by fantasies of revenge for losses for which there was no possible restitution. After losing their compassion, a person becomes little more than another corpse abandoned by the roadside, one that should really be buried. She knew that she was already just such a body, but she still needed to die before she could find peace under the Earth. And for her, dying was the hardest work of all.

SUMMERS: That was Isaac Abu Zaanona and NPR's Elena Burnett reading from Khaled Khalifa's novel "Death Is Hard Work," with translation from Leri Price.

SHAPIRO: Khalifa died on September 30 in Damascus, Syria.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLARISSA BITAR'S "HASSAN SABI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Tinbete Ermyas