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How One City Survived–In The Words Of Its Storyteller

Khaled Khalifa’s apartment in Damascus overlooks the embattled neighborhood of Berzeh, and from that vantage point he wrote his latest novel, “No Knives In This City’s Kitchens”, recently awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal and shortlisted for the Arab Booker Prize.

The city in the title is not Damascus but Aleppo, its sister city to the north. Indeed, if the Syrian capital is the immediate, tangible reality where the book was born, Aleppo is its secret twin and muse, a city of hidden memories. They mirror each another, inexactly: the past casts its reflection into the present, and one can read the present reflected in the past.

This is how good fiction outlives the emergencies of the evening news, by including history and making it human, and Khalifa does this with a clear and steady gaze. And while his characters suffer from isolation, the novel’s long view rescues their silence into a testament to survival and the kinship of survivors.

These bonds transcend the borders of any one city or country. Adel Nasser, one of the Naguib Prize judges, compared Khalifa’s treatment of Aleppo with Mahfouz’s own descriptions of old Cairo. In his acceptance speech, Khalifa wrote, “We work in fragility because we produce beauty, we contribute to making human life less solitary and harsh.

For more info – Raya Agency

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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