David L Ulin at the LA Times:
“If you really want to erase or distort a story,” Khaled Khalifa declares in his astonishing new novel “Death Is Hard Work,” “you should turn it into several different stories with different endings and plenty of incidental details.” He’s referring to the salutary comforts of narrative. This — or so we like to reassure ourselves — is one reason we turn to literature: as a balm, an expression of the bonds that bring us together, rather than the divisions that tear us apart.
And yet, what happens when that literature takes place in a landscape where such attachments have been severed, where “[r]ites and rituals meant nothing now”? These concerns are central to “Death Is Hard Work,” which takes place in contemporary Syria and involves the efforts of three adult children to transport the body of their father, Abdel Latif al-Salim, from Damascus, where he has died, for burial in his home village of Anabiya, a drive that would normally take just a handful of hours.