Syrian novelist hurts for his country’s bloodbath

by Rachel Baker on May 4, 2014

This is a great article from I suspect the books Khaled Khalifa writes are amazing because he has an immersion other writers who try to write books setting in war torn areas don’t have.

Sitting in a cafe in downtown Beirut, Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa’s thoughts keep wandering back to his home and favorite place in the world, the northern city of Aleppo, much of which now lies in ruins, demolished by civil war.

For him, the ancient metropolis is much more than a beautiful city known for its majestic, 13th century citadel, spicy cuisine and maze-like covered bazaar. It is his inspiration, the center of his pain, the place where the seeds of rebellion against an oppressive government were formed.

His latest novel, “No Knives in This City’s Kitchens” — which he finished writing just before Syria’s turmoil began three years ago — is centered in Aleppo, depicting a society’s stifled aspirations through the story of one Syrian family. The book, his fourth work set in Aleppo, won Egypt’s Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2013 and was short-listed for this year’s International Prize for Arab Fiction, a prestigious literary prize run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London.

“I don’t know what it is. Every time I try to write a novel which is not about Aleppo, I fail,” Khalifa said in an interview with The Associated Press in Beirut, stopping over on route to Abu Dhabi for the ceremony for the prize, which on Thursday was awarded to Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi.

Aleppo isn’t the only recurring theme in his books. Khalifa often explores how dictatorship and repression eat away at societies. Over the years, that has made him the target for harassment. In 2012, he was beaten up by plainclothes security forces during a friend’s funeral in Damascus.

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