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From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi--a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café--collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi--a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café--collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realizes he's created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive--first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path. A prizewinning novel by "Baghdad's new literary star" (The New York Times), Frankenstein in Baghdad captures with white-knuckle horror and black humor the surreal reality of contemporary Iraq.


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From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi--a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café--collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi--a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café--collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realizes he's created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive--first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path. A prizewinning novel by "Baghdad's new literary star" (The New York Times), Frankenstein in Baghdad captures with white-knuckle horror and black humor the surreal reality of contemporary Iraq.

30 review for Frankenstein in Baghdad

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paromjit

    This is a novel that depicts the horror, chaos, and mass death that has visited the residents of Baghdad in Iraq since the US occupation, delivered with the blackest of humour via the reinterpretation of the Gothic Frankenstein. The only constant is the rising tide of the dead and missing, with many friends and family unable to access a body, sometimes the odd pieces of body parts but there is no guarantee. There were times that this story felt like a piece of Cubist art, with a disjointed pictu This is a novel that depicts the horror, chaos, and mass death that has visited the residents of Baghdad in Iraq since the US occupation, delivered with the blackest of humour via the reinterpretation of the Gothic Frankenstein. The only constant is the rising tide of the dead and missing, with many friends and family unable to access a body, sometimes the odd pieces of body parts but there is no guarantee. There were times that this story felt like a piece of Cubist art, with a disjointed picture representing different aspects of life and death in this most ill-fated of cities. We follow a wide ranging cast of characters, the elderly Elishva lives in her coveted home with her cat, she lost her son, Daniel in the Iran-Iraq War, her 2 daughters live in Melbourne, and a crooked realtor is determined to acquire her home. Elishva has never gotten over the loss of Daniel and yearns for his return. Hadi, a junk dealer loses his beloved business partner, with no body he collects various body parts that represent every part of the Iraqi community and stitches together a composite corpse. This corpse becomes inhabited by a soul of a dead guard in search of a body. So Frankenstein, or Whatsitsname as he is referred to, is born. Elishva claims him as Daniel, her son, returning as promised by St George. The neighbourhood think with so many missing and dead, some are bound to return like Daniel. Whatsitsname seeks vengeance for all those who make up his body. Sought by the Americans, the Iraqi military, and Brigadier Majid of the Tracking Unit, discover this is a criminal who is bullet proof and cannot be killed. A number of parties lay claim to and support Whatsitsname, seeing him as representing all Iraqis who have suffered under the US and various corrupt and murderous Iraqi sectors, or as God or whatever fits their particular perspective. Mahmoud, a journalist, tries to get the bottom of the rumours surrounding Frankenstein, interviewing Hadi, eventually getting hold of recordings of Whatsitsname explaining his purpose. Whatsitsname keeps losing body parts as he achieves vengeance for that person, at first, those parts are replaced by innocent victims although soon any parts will do, even those of the guilty. There is a philosophical discussion as to whether such a demarcation of innocent and guilty can truly exist as Civil War erupts. Saadawi has written an intelligent satire on the sorrow and grief that is Iraq, and Baghdad in particular. I appreciate his approach, because quite honestly it would otherwise be unbearable and grim to read about. It is inevitable that amidst the never ending explosives, car bombs, al-Qaeda, US actions, religious factions that mental health issues would proliferate amidst the never ending loss and grief experienced by local Iraqis. I love the inclusion of the magicians, djinns, astrologers who play a vital role in political and military decision-making. The horror continues in the Iraq of today with continuing use of car bombs, the presence of religious factions and more. This is an extraordinary glimpse of some of what ordinary Iraqi citizens have experienced in recent times, that is if they are still alive. I hope many will choose to read this brilliant and compelling novel, it deserves much wider recognition. Many thanks to Oneworld Publications for an ARC.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Maxwell

    This is an inventive and fresh take on a classic story. It's also the first novel I've ever read (I think) that is translated from Arabic. Don't expect this to be as horrifying or thrilling as the blurb leads you to believe; it's much more introspective and comments on war, humanity, and learning to let go. The translation was top-notch and it read very naturally in English. Overall a unique reading experience that I might never have had if this novel hadn't been nominated for this year's Man Bo This is an inventive and fresh take on a classic story. It's also the first novel I've ever read (I think) that is translated from Arabic. Don't expect this to be as horrifying or thrilling as the blurb leads you to believe; it's much more introspective and comments on war, humanity, and learning to let go. The translation was top-notch and it read very naturally in English. Overall a unique reading experience that I might never have had if this novel hadn't been nominated for this year's Man Booker International prize (the reason I love literary prizes!).

  3. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Faith or Madness? I find it possible to read Frankenstein in Baghdad with or without irony. It flows just as well either way - as an edifying symbolic story of courage and the will to survive in modern Iraqi reality; or as the precise opposite, a condemnation of the symbols which constitute that reality. Saadawi uses an established literary reference to create this ambiguity - the monster formed by chaos. Saadawi’s monster is assembled and refreshed from the body parts of bomb victims. It is enli Faith or Madness? I find it possible to read Frankenstein in Baghdad with or without irony. It flows just as well either way - as an edifying symbolic story of courage and the will to survive in modern Iraqi reality; or as the precise opposite, a condemnation of the symbols which constitute that reality. Saadawi uses an established literary reference to create this ambiguity - the monster formed by chaos. Saadawi’s monster is assembled and refreshed from the body parts of bomb victims. It is enlivened by prayers directed to St George - as it happens the patron of England, a ‘coalition partner’ in the Iraqi occupation. Similar ironies pop up and annihilate each other like particles of matter and anti-matter throughout the text. Saadawi’s story takes place amid the profound spiritual as well as social dislocation of war. The monster of Frankenstein, the man constructed by man out of decaying remnants from the past, is the perfect trope for representing the reconstruction of civilization. Just as compelling, Shelley’s story of the monster has its roots in the Eastern European Jewish legend of the Golem, a creature formed through mystical prayer whose function is the protection of the community during just such a period of extreme stress. The principle plot device used by Saadawi, therefore, is that of miracle-working. A classical example of the genre is the Book of Signs in the Gospel of John. The allusion seems apt since the Frankenstein character Saadawi portrays is a combination of a devout Christian woman and a superstitious junk dealer living next door in ‘the Jewish house’. Like Saadawi’s story, John’s gospel uses the factual and the mystical interchangeably in order to connect a new appreciation of the world with a past that seems to have lost its relevance. Another fleeting irony: John’s gospel is the most anti-Semitic of the four Christian narratives of Jesus; it was written after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Not coincidentally, perhaps, the Jewish house is a ruin. The Book of Signs demonstrates how the technique of writing about miracles works. It contains reports on each of seven miracles performed by Jesus. All of these miracles can be interpreted either as factual or allegorical, or, in fact, as both simultaneously. For example, the first, and probably best known, miracle of the changing of water into wine at the wedding of Cana can be taken literally as testimony about the transformation of a physical substance. On the other hand some exegetes believe it is not the account of an event but primarily represents a symbolic claim by Jesus to be himself the new wine which will nourish the world. The symbolism further suggests Jesus as the new Moses, who changed the water of the Nile to blood. Which interpretation is the more accurate? Or more important? Or more faithful? Or, for that matter, more superstitious? Miracles are the presumed suspension of the physical laws of the universe by divine action. But, as in the Golem and Shelley’s and Saadawi’s monsters, they are theologically problematic - not just because of their literary functions but also because their mere possibility is a scandal for religious faith. On the one hand, miracles are seen as evidence of God’s power; on the other hand, they are equally clear evidence of God’s profound arbitrariness. If miracles do occur, they are the result of actions by a patently capricious deity who has the power to relieve the suffering of creation but generally chooses to permit, and even cause, such suffering. Miracles therefore tend to get out of hand conceptually. Miracles also demonstrate the rather tenuous link between faithful devotion and divine assistance. Some of John’s miracles, for example, depend on very specific faith in Jesus’s abilities; others on faith in a more transcendental and abstract divine power; and others have no connection with faith whatsoever but are apparently random demonstrations of divine whimsy. Therefore, even believers may not want to press miracles too seriously as factual events, as more than allegorical. St. Paul himself counsels against looking for signs as proof of divine action. Saadawi’s female protagonist has her prayer miraculously answered after decades of fervent prayer but in an obviously distorted and unexpected way. So Frankenstein in Baghdad can be read as a tale of the power of religious faith in a time of profound disruption; and simultaneously as a story of the self deception in which everyone involved in war participates. It is a literary optical illusion which captures the essential ambiguity created by human violence in its obscene destructiveness and its bizarre creativity. Religion is part of the problem as well as the solution to conflict. It is necessary to survive but at a cost. Religious belief persists but it is itself transformed as its benign and malicious effects are actualized. It appears, then, that Sophocles was correct: ‘evil appears as good in the minds of those whom the gods lead to destruction’. The same might be said of miracles, which can be, equally, symptoms of human madness or transcendental faith. Postscript: For more on the problematic theology of miracles, see: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    I have never read anything like this, and I severely doubt that I will read a better book this year. Like one of the many (and I mean: many) detonations we are witnessing in this text, the story, the timeline and the point of view simply explode right in our faces, again and again, and just like the characters, we are forced to piece everything together - will we succeed in doing this? And what kind of monster are we creating by devoting ourselves to this Sisyphean task? In case you're wondering I have never read anything like this, and I severely doubt that I will read a better book this year. Like one of the many (and I mean: many) detonations we are witnessing in this text, the story, the timeline and the point of view simply explode right in our faces, again and again, and just like the characters, we are forced to piece everything together - will we succeed in doing this? And what kind of monster are we creating by devoting ourselves to this Sisyphean task? In case you're wondering whether this book really offers cutting-edge political commentary, just take in the exposition of the story: When Hadi, a middle-aged junk dealer, loses his best friend Nahem in an explosion caused by a suicide bomber, he wants to make sure Nahem gets a proper burial - but for this, he needs a complete corpse, so Hadi decides to substitute the missing parts with the body parts of other victims of violence that he finds in the streets of Baghdad. You guessed it: The completed corpse, called Whatsitsname by Hadi, is entered by a displaced soul and comes to life. And not only that, the Whatsitsname wants revenge for the deaths of the people whose body parts he is composed of, and goes on a killing spree through Baghdad. But wait a minute, maybe this didn't even happen. Maybe Hadi is just an alcoholic liar and made it all up. Or maybe the Whatsitsname is an urban legend and a personification of people's fears. Or of people's longing for justice. Maybe the Whatsitsname works for the Iraqi government. Or the Americans. Or the terrorists. Or one of the militias. Maybe the whole story was distorted by the media. Who the hell knows? Which brings us to the heart of this book: In war-torn Baghdad, a whole society is exploding. Absolutely nothing is certain anymore, it becomes impossible to trust anyone or to verify information. It becomes dubious who stands on what side, who is spying on whom, and when and how the innocent become criminals. Human solidarity collapses over a variety of conflicts, and people get trapped in a circle of violence and revenge. How do you piece a human life or a whole society back together? Saadawi starts by telling this story. The topic of fragmentation is also represented in the narrative style, which jumps in time and between perspectives, and while the narrator is omniscient, he certainly does not share all of his knowledge with the reader. The connection between personal experiences and the destiny of society as a whole as well as the connection between the people inside and outside of the novel gets apparent when the author of "Frankenstein in Baghdad", Ahmed Saadawi, becomes a character in the book, where he meets a journalist named Mahmoud al-Sawadi (the names Mahmoud and Ahmed both go back to Muhammad and mean "praise"). Mahmoud is carrying a big secret about his family's origin - one of the many breathtaking ideas this book throws at its readers. This novel gives you what the best news report can't offer. It's the magic of literature, and this is a true masterpiece. Sample quote: "Because I'm made up of body parts of people from diverse backgrounds - ethnicities, tribes, races and social classes - I represent the impossible mix that never was achieved in the past. I'm the first true Iraqi citizen, he (the Whatsitsname) thinks."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Hemingwayesque Style: "Frankenstein in Baghdad" by Ahmed Saadawi Finished Ahmed Saadawi's "Frankenstein in Baghdad." It’s worth contrasting with Shelley's Frankenstein. Shelley writes about Frankenstein's misuse of Science, i.e., galvanism, in creating an ultimately vengeful Creature, existing primarily in a Romantic world of wild nature, the background of which is the setting for the novel. Saadawi's Frankenstein in Baghdad, OTOH, is s If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Hemingwayesque Style: "Frankenstein in Baghdad" by Ahmed Saadawi Finished Ahmed Saadawi's "Frankenstein in Baghdad." It’s worth contrasting with Shelley's Frankenstein. Shelley writes about Frankenstein's misuse of Science, i.e., galvanism, in creating an ultimately vengeful Creature, existing primarily in a Romantic world of wild nature, the background of which is the setting for the novel. Saadawi's Frankenstein in Baghdad, OTOH, is set in an urban hell of murders, car bombings, massacres and various varieties of sectarian warfare.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ina Cawl

    reading these book reminded the daily horror many people face from Baghdad to Kabul to Mogadishu where death toll raises so much that it hardens your heart and just recite the numbers of victims of these or that explosions without pondering behind these numbers lies people who lived loved and had families but cowardly hand of death stole them from their beloved one. not knowing if you leavehome you will return safely you prepare your will and recite it before you step out of the house and pray you reading these book reminded the daily horror many people face from Baghdad to Kabul to Mogadishu where death toll raises so much that it hardens your heart and just recite the numbers of victims of these or that explosions without pondering behind these numbers lies people who lived loved and had families but cowardly hand of death stole them from their beloved one. not knowing if you leavehome you will return safely you prepare your will and recite it before you step out of the house and pray you return to your home in one piece Longer review to come

  7. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

    My fourth book from the MBI shortlist and sixth including the longlist - this was probably the one I enjoyed least. The perspective on Baghdad from an Iraqi is not one we hear much of so that was interesting, but I didn't feel the Frankenstein element of the story worked very well and I am not sure that much of the humour translated. An interesting book but not an essential one. My fourth book from the MBI shortlist and sixth including the longlist - this was probably the one I enjoyed least. The perspective on Baghdad from an Iraqi is not one we hear much of so that was interesting, but I didn't feel the Frankenstein element of the story worked very well and I am not sure that much of the humour translated. An interesting book but not an essential one.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Neil

    Frankenstein in Baghdad was originally published in Arabic in 2013. In 2014, it was awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (sometimes known as the "Arabic Booker"). It is now (early-2018) being made available in English translation (by Jonathan Wright). Writing in the New York Times in 2014, Tim Arango said "Mr. Saadawi … is at the vanguard of a small group of writers starting to interpret, through fiction, the trauma wrought from the American invasion of 2003.". And you can judge ho Frankenstein in Baghdad was originally published in Arabic in 2013. In 2014, it was awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (sometimes known as the "Arabic Booker"). It is now (early-2018) being made available in English translation (by Jonathan Wright). Writing in the New York Times in 2014, Tim Arango said "Mr. Saadawi … is at the vanguard of a small group of writers starting to interpret, through fiction, the trauma wrought from the American invasion of 2003.". And you can judge how important this book is for the Iraqi people from the fact that the article goes on to quote another Iraqi author (Ibrahim Abdul Jabbar) as saying about Saadawi, and this book in particular, that "He has given us faith that Iraq is still alive, and we are the ones who can make change if we have the will." In fact, the whole article by Arango is worth reading: here. Framed as a story developed from documents sent to "the author" by a source within the Tracking and Pursuit Department, Frankenstein in Baghdad tells the story a monster on the loose in Baghdad. It is magical realism. It is gothic horror. It is an exploration of the damage done to property, culture and people by the war. I was staggered to discover this Wikipedia page when doing some background research. The book is set in 2005 (the year of the first free elections after the fall of Hussein) and this page lists the acts of terror in Iraq during that year: Wikipedia. It is a sobering read and the book itself is punctuated by ongoing acts of terror (suicide bombings). We learn a bit of what it is to live in a city scarred by war and its consequences. For an outsider (e.g. me) this is harrowing reading, but it is impossible not to pause and imagine what it must be like for the actual inhabitants of the city and what it must be like to read this book if you have been part of the story it tells. The book begins with a suicide bombing: "The explosion was horrific—and here Hadi looked to Aziz for confirmation. Hadi had run out of the coffee shop. He had been eating some of the beans that Ali al-Sayed made in the shop next door and that Hadi ate for breakfast every morning. On his way out of the shop he collided with people running from the explosion. The smell suddenly hit his nostrils—the smoke, the burning of plastic and seat cushions, the roasting of human flesh. You wouldn’t have smelled anything like it in your life and would never forget it." And this sets the tone for the book where everyday actions of living in the city (coffee, breakfast, etc.) are mingled with acts of terror and gore. In fact, in one of life’s unpleasant coincidences, the day I wrote this review (15 Jan 2018) was marked by a huge suicide bombing in the same city square as the one that opens this book, making the message of this book all the more important and contemporary. Near the start of the book, we meet Hadi who has assembled a corpse from body parts he has gathered in the aftermath of the multiple suicide bombings that are destroying Baghdad. By a bizarre series of events, that corpse is animated and becomes the Frankenstein-type of the book’s title. The creature becomes a metaphor for the war that has wreaked havoc in Baghdad. Initially, the Whatsitsname (the label given to the creature) sets out to kill the people responsible for the deaths of those who make up his body. But, like war, it does not stop there: "There’s no harm in warning him so he doesn’t offend me again. I’m now taking revenge on people who insult me, not just on those who did violence to those whose body parts I’m made of," the Whatsitsname said. The killing gets out of control, mirroring the impact and destructive patterns of war in the city. The book is all the more chilling for the sparsity of its prose. Saadawi does not mess around with words, but he does notice some macabre details that bring home the reality of life in a war torn city: "In the coffin they put his burned black shoes; his shredded, bloodstained clothes; and small charred parts of his body." And, in parallel with the story of the Whatsitsname, we see other stories of people in Baghdad as they develop and interact. It is worthwhile spending some time on the character list at the start of the book as this makes the story easier to follow, especially for Western readers who will find some of the names hard to remember. Don’t be fooled by the title: this is not just a horror story about a monster. It is about people, it is about life in Iraq, it is about the consequences of war. This has all the feel of a very important book. Important primarily for the people it is about and who must be its primary target. But also important for the rest of the world, which makes its English translation a significant event. As Arango says in his review: "For the Americans, though, turning their experiences into fiction is a retrospective act, because their war ended. For Iraqis like Mr. Saadawi, the war is still their present, haunting their reality even as they try to make the best of it — going to work in the morning, putting dinner on the table, watering the plants." Like me, you may not read many books that concentrate on magical realism, allegory and symbolism. But you should read this one.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lata

    Not simply a retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this book’s author uses the reanimated, stitched together corpse to show the tension, danger and chaos ever-present in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The author follows a few individuals as their lives intersect, thanks to the monster, who was reanimated by the ghost of a security guard killed in a suicide bombing. And there are multiple suicide bombings in this story, along with a secret government department with corrupt and dangerous members, Not simply a retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this book’s author uses the reanimated, stitched together corpse to show the tension, danger and chaos ever-present in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The author follows a few individuals as their lives intersect, thanks to the monster, who was reanimated by the ghost of a security guard killed in a suicide bombing. And there are multiple suicide bombings in this story, along with a secret government department with corrupt and dangerous members, genuine fear for American actions, multiple groups’ vying for control, of the city, crumbled and destroyed infrastructure and a variety of other despair-inducing circumstances. The author provides a good picture of the damage and destruction caused in Iraq post-American invasion. As a story, I found this book a little slow and was not always sure why certain story elements were present. And this book is not a retread of the classic Frankenstein, and once I got my head around that, I was able to follow the characters living their lives in the chaotic city, while the monster was on a self-appointed mission to kill criminals. I was a little amused by the reference to Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the monster by one of the characters. I cannot say I enjoyed this book, but I was able to appreciate the portrayal of the people and the city in this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    Book 5/13 from a very strong Man Booker International longlist - and like the other 4 I've read a shortlist contender! New listeners risked missing the pleasures of the story if they insisted on challenging it right from the start. The logical objections were usually left to the end, and no one interfered with the way the story was told or with the subplots Hadi went into. Originally published in 2014, and winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the 2018 English translation by Jonath Book 5/13 from a very strong Man Booker International longlist - and like the other 4 I've read a shortlist contender! New listeners risked missing the pleasures of the story if they insisted on challenging it right from the start. The logical objections were usually left to the end, and no one interfered with the way the story was told or with the subplots Hadi went into. Originally published in 2014, and winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the 2018 English translation by Jonathan Wright of Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad must be a strong contender for this year’s Man Booker International Prize. Set in Baghdad in 2005. “a place of murder and gratuitous violence”, amidst the bloody insurgency in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war and the growing sectarian conflicts, the story opens with one of the many bombings that hit the city in that year. But for one character, Hadi, a low-life dealer in bric-a-brac, the scene presents a bizarre opportunity: Hadi watched the scene with eagle eyes, looking for something in particular amid this binge of death and devastation. Once he was sure he had seen it, he threw his cigarette to the ground and rushed to grab it before a powerful jet of water could blast it down into the sewer. He wrapped it in his canvas sack, folded the sack under his arm, and left the scene. We soon discover, at least according to his bar-room stories, that what he finds is an intact human nose from a dismembered victim of a bomb. And this is the last piece he needs to complete Whatsitsname, a reconstructed body he has assembled from the parts of various victims, an obsession that began when a close friend of his was killed in a bomb and the mortuary could only offer him his pick from an assortment of body parts to bury. A few days later, distracted by Hadi passing by, Hasib a security guard at the Novotel hotel wanders put of his security booth, and is confronted by a rubbish truck driving at high speed towards the hotel gates: When Hasib saw the rubbish truck, many possible explanations flooded his mind. It was just a rubbish truck. The driver had made a mistake –he had lost control and veered off towards the hotel gate. There had been a traffic accident, and the driver had sped off and was unintentionally heading for the gate. No, it was a suicide bomber. Stop! Stop! One shot, then another. He didn’t mean to kill the driver. He wouldn’t dare kill anyone, but this was his duty. He was well aware of the strict orders about protecting the hotel. There were security companies and important people and maybe Americans in it. And the soul of Hasib, unable to locate its almost vaporised body, instead animates the body of Whatisname: Overwhelmed by a heaviness and torpor, he lodged inside the corpse, filling it from head to toe, because probably, he realized then, it didn’t have a soul, while he was a soul without a body. The resulting Frankenstein like creation starts to take revenge on behalf of the victims who comprise it against those it holds responsible for their deaths, although he is no monster as Mahmoud, a journalist discovers: This was the second or third time Mahmoud had listened to the Whatsitsname’s recordings. He couldn’t get over the shock of the story or the soft, calm voice in which it had been recounted. Saadawi cleverly allows the reader to form their own view on whether the resulting Saramagoesque story is, even within the novel’s confines, simply an urban legend, perhaps a cover story for the true activities of Brigadoer Majid’a rather sinister department, or if they are actually true. There are laws that human beings are unaware of. These laws don’t operate around the clock like the physical laws by which the wind blows, the rain falls, and rocks fall down mountains, or like other laws that human beings can observe, verify, and define because they apply to things that recur. There are laws that operate only under special conditions, and when something happens under these laws, people are surprised and say it’s impossible, that it’s a fairy tale or in the best case a miracle. They don’t say they’re unaware of the law behind it. People are deluded and never admit their ignorance. Saadawi does this firstly by employing a framing device that presents the book as a report on a renegade department of the Iraqi civil forces reporting to the occupying authorities, a department which took as its task investigating the occult (in their view, Iraq’s strongest defence against the US invasion were its djinn, only for the Americans to deploy stronger supernatural forces of their own), and the story we are reading is claimed to be a novel discovered during their investigations: With regard to the activities of the Tracking and Pursuit Department, which is partially affiliated to the civil administration of the international coalition forces in Iraq, the special committee of inquiry set up under my chairmanship, with representatives of the Iraqi security and intelligence agencies and observers from US military intelligence, has come to the following conclusions: [...] It is clear that the department had been operating outside its area of expertise, which should have been limited to such bureaucratic matters as archiving information and preserving files and documents. Under the direct management of Brigadier Majid, it had employed several astrologers and fortune-tellers, on high salaries financed by the Iraqi treasury, not by the US authorities. Secondly, Hadi himself is established as a well known fabricator of fantastic tales – indeed even he isn’t clear at times if he really created Whatitsname or simply invented the story: Hadi was a liar, and everyone knew it. He would need witnesses to corroborate a claim of having had fried eggs for breakfast, let alone a story about a naked corpse made up of the body parts of people killed in explosions. [...] A seed of fear had started to grow deep inside him, and he couldn’t get it out of his mind. Because lies can come true. One striking thing in the story is how the aftermaths of even major bombs are simply tidied away: If she had gone straight back to Tayaran Square, she would have found that everything was calm, just as she had left it in the morning. The pavements would be clean and the cars that had caught fire would have been towed away. The dead would have been taken to the forensics department and the injured to the Kindi Hospital. There would be some shattered glass here and there, a pole blackened with smoke, and a hole in the asphalt, though she wouldn’t have been able to make out how big it was because of her blurred vision. And life goes on. The rich cast of characters are largely precoccupied with doing business and property deals (“the dire strait of the country offered opportunities only to the bold and adventurous”) the ins-and-ours of office politics, finding a partner (for life or if not, at least for the night), enjoying food and drink in venues from local dives to luxury venues; the bombings and ever present threat of a sudden violent end are in one sense simply the (literally) everyday background noise against which they live their lives. It is the very normality with which such horrifying incidents come to be accepted that adds to the horror for the reader. But that isn’t to say the novel downplays the brutal reality of the bombings. Even for someone who has encountered several such incidents, they still shock: The smell suddenly hit his nostrils –the smoke, the burning of plastic and seat cushions, the roasting of human flesh. You wouldn’t have smelled anything like it in your life and would never forget it. And of course the very fear of violence itself creates deaths, notably in the Al-Aaimmah Bridge stampede in August 2005 caused by a false report of a suicide bomber in a massive crowd of pilgrims, which is included, in a fictionalized version, in the novel. Whatitsname’s campaign gets increasingly sophisticated as he takes on higher profile targets, and he attracts followers who inevitably end up in sectarian conflicts of their own. And as he revenges each victim, the corresponding body part falls off and begins the natural process of decay, leading him to need to seek body parts from new victims to replace to enable his body to stay intact so he can complete his mission: ‘My list of people to seek revenge on grew longer as my old body parts fell off and my assistants added parts from my new victims, until one night I realized that under these circumstances I would face an open-ended list of targets that would never end. This spiral of never-ending violence is clearly a metaphor for the situation in Iraq, as is the increasing confusion as to whether the ‘victims’ from whom his parts are taken are actually themselves also villains responsible for the deaths of others: Every day we’re dying from the same fear of dying. The groups that have given shelter and support to al-Qaeda have done so because they are frightened of another group, and this other group has created and mobilized militias to protect itself from al-Qaeda. It has created a death machine working in the other direction because it’s afraid of the Other. And we’re going to see more and more death because of fear. The government and the occupation forces have to eliminate fear. They must put a stop to it if they really want this cycle of killing to end. Others such as the Head of the Tracking and Pursuit Department have no loyalty except to power and fear is the currency in which they trade, his mission being to “create an equilibrium of violence” between the different factions. The man would have no qualms about using brute force to serve those in power, whether Saddam Hussein, the Americans or the new government. Brigadier Majid had served or would serve them all. But ultimately the book’s message is that violence begats violence and fear begats fear and, as Whatitsname repeats to himself as a mantra: There are no innocents who are completely innocent or criminals who are completely criminal. ... I kill in order to keep going. 4.5 stars

  11. 5 out of 5

    lark benobi

    I loved everything about this novel except for the storytelling, which was a bit plodding and which frequently made me want to look away from the page and daydream. That's a shame because I think the work it takes to read this story probably is a high enough bar to prevent the novel from reaching the audience it deserves. The story itself is wonderful. I feel very close to the characters. Here is a lovingly portrayed community in Baghdad at a time when suicide bombers are regularly blowing themse I loved everything about this novel except for the storytelling, which was a bit plodding and which frequently made me want to look away from the page and daydream. That's a shame because I think the work it takes to read this story probably is a high enough bar to prevent the novel from reaching the audience it deserves. The story itself is wonderful. I feel very close to the characters. Here is a lovingly portrayed community in Baghdad at a time when suicide bombers are regularly blowing themselves and others up in residential neighborhoods. The people who survive go about their business. The portrayal here of the ways ordinary life goes on reflects a kind of fatalistic unreality that I imagine is something close to how people cope in real war zones. The core metaphor is brilliant: The animated, ensouled corpse that is the titular character of the novel perfectly captures the absurdity of war, and his actions perfectly capture the futility of ever trying to "win" a war, and the impossibility of ever reaching an outcome where all deaths are avenged, all evil eradicated, and all good restored. I recommend this novel without reservation for those who don't mind being bored now and then on their way to revelation.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Viv JM

    Frankenstein in Baghdad is a book that's been receiving rave reviews, was awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and has now also been longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. I thought I would love it and yet, I didn't :-(. For the most part, I found myself slogging through it, not really getting the cultural references, not really able to feel much connection to any of the characters (although I did like Elishva), not really seeing the relevance of some parts and well, ju Frankenstein in Baghdad is a book that's been receiving rave reviews, was awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and has now also been longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. I thought I would love it and yet, I didn't :-(. For the most part, I found myself slogging through it, not really getting the cultural references, not really able to feel much connection to any of the characters (although I did like Elishva), not really seeing the relevance of some parts and well, just not really enjoying it. I certainly didn't find it "horrifically funny" as promised on the cover blurb. Ah well, maybe it's just a case of it being the wrong book at the wrong time for me. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer

    Hadi’s listeners were completely wrapped up in the story. New listeners risked missing the pleasures of the story if they insisted on challenging it right from the start. The logical objections were usually left to the end, and no one interfered with the way the story was told or with the sub-plots Hadi went into. This book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction which for the still Iraqi based author gave him $50,000 and, for English readers, the guarantee that this vitally important Hadi’s listeners were completely wrapped up in the story. New listeners risked missing the pleasures of the story if they insisted on challenging it right from the start. The logical objections were usually left to the end, and no one interfered with the way the story was told or with the sub-plots Hadi went into. This book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction which for the still Iraqi based author gave him $50,000 and, for English readers, the guarantee that this vitally important novel would be translated to English. It has now, unsurprisingly, been shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize - and must have a strong chance to win (or failing that to win the 2019 Best Translated Book Award in the US). The book is set in the Al-Bataween district of Baghdad, and which I think is in itself a key character in the novel and certainly some understanding of the nature of this district helps in comprehending the book. From my limited internet research, my summary would be as follows. Al-Batween was at one stage an affluent Jewish quarter, but after 1948 (and the creation of Israel) was taken over by mainly-Armenian descended Christians; before in the 1970-80s subject to large scale immigration from Sudan and Somalia, although many of these immigrants fled Iraq for their home countries up to and after the American invasion. The past-affluence of the district is reflected in its (now crumbling) art-deco buildings, but overall the once prosperous area is now more of a site for prostitution and other criminal activities. One of these buildings is occupied by Elishva, mother of Daniel who was forced into fighting in the Iran/Iraq war by the local barber – an ex-Baathist – and who has not been heard of since. Elishva’s daughters have long fled to Australia, but she refuses to follow them, convinced (partly due to conversations she has with a painting of St George) that Daniel is alive and will one day return. One of her neighbours is Hadi – a local junk-dealer and well-known teller of tall stories. Hadi would later narrate these details several times, because he loved details that gave his story credibility and made it more vivid. He would just be telling people about his hard day’s work, but they would listen as though it were the best fable Hadi the liar had ever told. Hadi was a liar and everyone knew it. He would need witnesses to corroborate a claim of having fried eggs for breakfast, let alone a story about a naked corpse made up of the body parts of people killed in explosions. He has (as this quote implies), seemingly driven by grief and anger after the car-bomb death of his business partner, secretly been (as part of his scavenging) taken to finding human body parts after explosions and assembling them into a complete corpse – with an undefined aim to give the corpse some form of burial. Deciding to abandon this plan he finds to his shock that the corpse - which he names Whatsitsname - has disappeared and then to his horror that it has come to life – from what we read animated by the otherwise disembodied soul of another car bombing incident and sheltered by Elishva who believes it is Daniel – and is carrying out a serious of murders in the area. Initially Whatsitsname’s avengance is directed at those responsible for the deaths of those whose body parts make it up, at which point the respective body parts die. But over time its murderous spree grows, assisted by a group of adherents that follow Whatsitsname, and develops a terrible but unstoppable logic of its own My list of people to seek revenge on grew longer as my old body parts fell off and my assistants added parts form my new victims, until one night I realised that under these circumstances I would face an open-ended list of targets that would never end. Whatsitsname’s adherents grow in their fanaticism some prepared to sacrifice themselves to provide new body parts, and splitting into factions who then turn on each other in a series of battles, and Whasitsname itself can no longer distinguish between the innocents it is trying to avenge and the criminals who caused their death. There are no innocents who are completely innocent or criminals who are completely criminal. Its clear that Whatsitsnam – its multiple body parts, the civil wars between its followers, the apparently self-sustaining series of killings – is a metaphor for occupied Iraq, the terrible atrocities and civil war that followed the American invasion, and for the darker side of human nature it has uncovered. Because I’m made up of body parts of people from diverse backgrounds – ethnicities, tribes, races and social classes – I represent the impossible mix that never was achieved in the past. I’m the first true Iraqi citixen, he (the Whatsitsname) thinks. Fear of the Whatsitsname continued to spread. In Sadr City they spoke of him as a Wahhabi, in Adamiya as a Shiite extremist. The Iraqi government described him as an agent of foreign powers, while the spokesman for the us state department said he was an ingenious man whose aim was to undermine the American project in Iraq. He told her it would be about the evil we all have inside us, how it resides deep within us, even when we want to put an end to it in the outside world, because we are all criminals to some extent and the darkness within us is the blackest variety known to man. He said we have all been helping to create the evil creature that is now killing us off. All of the above is wrapped around with the story of an up and coming reporter feeling his way in occupied Iraqi society, and with the activities of a bizarre Department of the Iraqi civil administration which exceeds its brief by employing astrologers and fortune tellers to predict atrocities. But perhaps more impressively and memorably for me, the novel is also woven through with the story of the Al-Bataween district and its inhabitants. I was particularly impressed with: the way that the book conveys the terrible reality of living in a City where terrible and seemingly random atrocities are both a day to day occurence and yet still profoundly shocking to those who witness them; the way that for the inhabitants one of the most terrifying sights is an American armoured car or government forces and threat of seemingly arbitrary detention, interrogation or worse; the tensions it shows between those who decide to stay in Baghdad and try to carry on life there, and those who flee elsewhere in Iraq or even abroad; its conveying of the multi-faith heritage of the area – in one series of I think importance scenes, a Quran verse that Hadi’s partner had glued to the wall is ripped off to reveal a hidden alcove containing a statue of Mary, which is later decapitated to reveal some Hebrew wall inscriptions. Overall an excellent book. Sadaawi names two literary influences as Hemingway and Marquez – and these influences are clear in the combination of tight prose and magical realism in this novel, although the lack of affect in the prose was for me the weakest element of the novel and has caused me to round my 4.5* down.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dave Schaafsma

    “The king ordered that the saint be placed in the olive press until his flesh was torn to pieces and he died. They then threw him out of the city, but the Lord Jesus gathered the pieces together and brought him back to life, and he went back into the city”—The Story of St. George, the Great Martyr” Frankenstein in Baghdad is an amazing novel that clearly assumes you at least know about Mary Shelley’s work, which it riffs off in a political/spiritual landscape set in the ongoing nightmare wreckage “The king ordered that the saint be placed in the olive press until his flesh was torn to pieces and he died. They then threw him out of the city, but the Lord Jesus gathered the pieces together and brought him back to life, and he went back into the city”—The Story of St. George, the Great Martyr” Frankenstein in Baghdad is an amazing novel that clearly assumes you at least know about Mary Shelley’s work, which it riffs off in a political/spiritual landscape set in the ongoing nightmare wreckage of Baghdad, Iraq, a place we all know as a site of suicide bombings, car bombs and terror more than its historical relation as the cultural mecca it remains. So it’s horror—as is Frankenstein—featuring a monster, but it is also an anguished love letter to and lament for the author’s beloved city. Filled with lyrical writing, honoring the dead there, it also possesses one of the darkest veins of black humor I have ever read. Fitting to use horror, surrealism, magical realism when there are just no words in the vocabulary of realism for the emotional effects of a terrorist act. Hadi, a junk dealer, gathers body parts from the wreckage of unending bombings so he piece together a whole body and can give his friend Nahem a proper burial. Elishva too, wants to properly mourn her son, Daniel, killed in the Iran-Iraq War, though Elishva doesn’t yet quite accept he is dead. Hadi finds body parts where he can, from a range of humans attached to sects, good folks, criminals, whatever. And presto! We have a material representation, a map, of the body politic of Iraq, a deeply sad if macabre rendering of a body of fragments that fall off and need to be replaced all the time by the body parts of newly dead.. “Because I'm made up of body parts of people from diverse backgrounds - ethnicities, tribes, races and social classes - I represent the impossible mix that never was achieved in the past. I'm the first true Iraqi citizen, he (the Whatsitsname) thinks.” But one day this body, this Whatisname, walks away and begins to take revenge on those he sees as responsible for what has happened to the collective him and his country. Revenge, you ask? I thought this was poetry, a national tragedy! What about the need to heal? Well, this is Frankenstein territory, which means it is horror, in a world gone very very wrong. Macabre? Right, but also surprisingly lyrical and elegiac and tragic and sad even as it is sometimes bizarrely funny. For instance, in the process, Elishva claims Whatisname as Daniel, her son, returning as promised by St George! How to get at the humor? Well, there’s a certain kind of rage and tenderness that attends Hadi’s job of stitching together bodies but its also outrageous comedy. And religion is part of what heals us but also divides and sometimes destroys us, so some of what we read acknowledges its importance and sometimes it is just flat out satire. And there’s this tender aspect of caring about the material body and in another light it’s a ludicrous act of desecration. It’s surreal, this act, impossible, and yet hopeful, giving hope in one instance to a mother who thinks her long lost son has come back home, not dead at all. There’s so much I am not getting at here. The stories that people tell both sustain and obfuscate: Hadi was a well-known liar. Can we even believe his story of whatisname? What about all these djinns and apparitions and saints? Frankenstein in Baghdad was originally published in Arabic in 2013. In 2014, it was awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (sometimes known as the "Arabic Booker"). And I think it is a masterpiece I'll never forget, and will need to read again to better understand.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Wen

    This is such a captivating book. Ahmed Saadawi glided seamlessly along the emotional spectrum, from hilarity to poignancy. It kept me engaged the entire time. We were brought to a typical Baghdad neighborhood in Lane 7. It was 2005,in the aftermath of US invasion. Despite the constant threat of suicide bombing, the residents were doing their best to hold on to their normal lives: Abu Anmar desperately keeping his ramshackle hotel from going under, realtor Faraj taking advantage of neighbors’ dev This is such a captivating book. Ahmed Saadawi glided seamlessly along the emotional spectrum, from hilarity to poignancy. It kept me engaged the entire time. We were brought to a typical Baghdad neighborhood in Lane 7. It was 2005,in the aftermath of US invasion. Despite the constant threat of suicide bombing, the residents were doing their best to hold on to their normal lives: Abu Anmar desperately keeping his ramshackle hotel from going under, realtor Faraj taking advantage of neighbors’ devastation to amass his own wealth, Hadi the junk dealer hoarding items as gross as a human nose, aspiring young journalist Mahmoud al-Sawadi being torn between climbing the career ladder and pursuing his unrequited love for his boss’ mistress, and the old “mad woman” Elishva deserting her living daughters, but stubbornly waiting for her long-dead son Daniel to return. the Whatsitsname, the monster constructed from human body parts and animated by the sole of hotel guard Hasib Mohamed Jaafar, was a magical creature who couldn’t be killed by bullets. But he was neither a superhero nor a Dark Lord; rather, he was in every way as human as any human characters above. He longed for a sense of belonging, emotionally attached to his creator ‘father” Hadi and “mother” Elishva who named him after her dead son. We watched his coming of age struggle in search of his identity and moral scruple; he had the power to kill, but killing for justice had its dear price—killing the innocents. None of the characters were free of flaws. “There are no innocents who are completely innocent or criminals who are completely criminal.” And yet I grew attached to them, and found myself sympathizing with their causes. This was a small, mixed-faith community built on gossips and superstitions. Neighbors cared for and held grudges against each other, like in a small community anywhere in the world. It embodied the frictionless cohabitation of reality and unreality, which is also the most characteristic of the book. For example, who had the upper hand in telling the future, playing cards or red sand? The pacing was just right, and the vignette structure in the chapters made the story easier to follow. Arabic names often confuse me, and this book had 4 people by the name of Abu. Because of the way the characters were introduced and the story was told, i.e. mostly focusing on one or two characters at a time, I rarely had to go back and consult the character chart at the beginning of the book. This is another MBI longlist title, and my second so far. I can definitely see it making the shortlist.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Trudie

    * 3.5 * Now shortlisted for the 2018 International Man Booker but originally published in 2013 this book is now available in an English translation. Frankenstein in Baghdad is riffing off Shelley's gothic classic Frankenstein , which admittedly I have not read but nevertheless I appreciate Saadawi came up with a brilliant and unusual idea to use this "monster" and set it down in a surrealist tale of life in Baghdad circa 2005. I must say it is very refreshing to read a book set in Iraq that is no * 3.5 * Now shortlisted for the 2018 International Man Booker but originally published in 2013 this book is now available in an English translation. Frankenstein in Baghdad is riffing off Shelley's gothic classic Frankenstein , which admittedly I have not read but nevertheless I appreciate Saadawi came up with a brilliant and unusual idea to use this "monster" and set it down in a surrealist tale of life in Baghdad circa 2005. I must say it is very refreshing to read a book set in Iraq that is not a "conflict book" written by an American (not that these are not interesting as well) but rather it feels like a story of life for ordinary Iraqi's living a daily existence in a conflict zone. Saadawi's writing conveyed a true feeling of love for his city and it's inhabitants and a mourning for what had happened to it. The slightly absurdist, certainly surreal, fractured nature of this narrative while frustrating to me as a reader also seemed right for this story. One could draw some comparisons to One Hundred Years of Solitude with this book, the magical realism is there, the humour, the vast cast list, the discombobulation, a kind of fairy tale like feeling but with some very real human tragedy at it's heart. Other reviews of this novel have done such a great job at interpretation that I will not repeat all their ideas. Suffice to say this is a book that needs a day or two to mull over and I don't believe all the layers to it would be quite revealed upon a single read and perhaps not to those without an intimate understanding of Iraqi culture. However, there is plenty to admire and learn from in this book, not least of which is I now know what a Mashrabiya balcony is. I enjoyed this novel best when it was tightly focused on the 'Whatshisname', in these sections it is superb, and a deep mediation on the cycle of violence, of fear, mistrust and revenge. However, I lost my way somewhat towards the end, when the circuitous nature of the story-telling and the hanging threads of the various side characters confused me. Frankenstein in Baghdad feels like such an important book to have made it into English translation and I really hope we get more authors translated from the Arab world. But I am kind of torn in my feelings for this as a successful novel. I thought it had significant weaker moments and taken as a whole I had some struggles with it and consider it a distinctly uneven read. I benefitted greatly from other readers thoughts on this one. So I think it is in some ways the perfect book club read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    It won’t come as any surprise to anyone that this novel is about the war in Baghdad, the one which has gone on relentlessly since 2003. Saadawi won the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction for this work about the people trying to—literally—piece their lives together amidst endless bombings and heavy doses of despair. The diversity of Iraqi culture is one highlight in this novel, the first people we see in any depth being on of the large numbers of Christians, not Shi’ite, Sunni, Yazidis, A It won’t come as any surprise to anyone that this novel is about the war in Baghdad, the one which has gone on relentlessly since 2003. Saadawi won the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction for this work about the people trying to—literally—piece their lives together amidst endless bombings and heavy doses of despair. The diversity of Iraqi culture is one highlight in this novel, the first people we see in any depth being on of the large numbers of Christians, not Shi’ite, Sunni, Yazidis, Ahl-e Haqq, Mandeans, Shabak, and Bahá’í, or any other of the many religions that were commonly found in Baghdad before the war. "I’ll tell you something. I don’t think my family were originally Arabs…I think [we] were Sabean who converted to Islam,” said Mahmoud.Mahmoud is a journalist in a struggling newspaper. The owner doesn’t seem to care enough about news and is instead, like the rest of the city, looking for opportunities to make money. The city’s population has a large contingent of people who no longer trust in their god but have revived an interest in the astrology of their forbears. Mahmoud gets a scoop, a digital audio archive of the man thought to be terrorizing the city’s citizens. The man, called Whatsitsname, had been created by a grieving junk man, Hadi, from the bits of people left after bombings. Whatsitsname was meant to be memorial to all the people who died but who have no bodies to bury. Hadi had meant no disrespect, and certainly never anticipated Whatsisname would come to life in the midst of a terrible electrical storm… Lightly told, the story’s humor saves it from a reality too terrible to contemplate. Originally composed of body parts from ‘innocents,’ Whatsitsname gradually found himself replacing bits and pieces of those people he’d already avenged, eventually using parts from terrorists themselves, or criminals and crooks. This made his psychic paybacks much more fraught and complicated. “…who’s to say how criminal someone is? That’s a question the Magician raised one day. ‘Each of us has a measure of criminality…’” More importantly, we begin to question what it means to share destinies with others, some we do not like or do not trust, and even some people we barely know. If the coarse and criminal ‘get the girls,’ what does it mean to be chaste? As for the Frankenstein, Whatsitsname, “they have turned me into a criminal and a monster, equating me with those I seek to exact revenge on.” But he continues to exist, changing features and nature, reflecting those whose parts he attaches. As an examination of the fragmentation that has taken place in a diverse but harmonious society when death is sown recklessly and nonsensically, this novel is a window. As a novel in the Western tradition, it manages to convey a complex psychological portrait of a city, not merely of individuals. Were it a painting, it would feature a lot of red and black. It is definitely an indication that life has not been extinguished yet, that confusion sowed is being digested, and the city may rise again.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    Short listed for international man booker Shouldn't it rather be called Frankenstein's Monster? The book sure picks up the atmosphere of Iraq suffering from aftereffects of war and terrorism. The very idea of making a complete dead body out of parts of victims of bomb blasts which couldn't be identified with their owner is something that could occur easily to someone living in Baghdad and, for whom, bombs are a daily occurrence. In fact, the characters who seem to be prospering the most are those Short listed for international man booker Shouldn't it rather be called Frankenstein's Monster? The book sure picks up the atmosphere of Iraq suffering from aftereffects of war and terrorism. The very idea of making a complete dead body out of parts of victims of bomb blasts which couldn't be identified with their owner is something that could occur easily to someone living in Baghdad and, for whom, bombs are a daily occurrence. In fact, the characters who seem to be prospering the most are those gaining from ruins - one of them gets rich by buying old junk from those migrating out and other by buying or illegally occupying their properties. Then there is the fact that monster like Baghdad contains elements of verious communities. Another element would be religion: "There were people who had survived many deaths in the time of the dictatorship only to find themselves face-to-face with a pointless death in the age of “democracy”—when, for example, a motorbike ran into them in the middle of the road. Believers lost their faith when those who had shared their beliefs and their struggles betrayed them and their principles. Nonbelievers had become believers when they saw the “merits” and benefits of faith." It too raised my hoped - this magical religious realism of sort one enjoys in old stories (Arabian nights,.Katha Sarita sagar etc), where thing that superstition people believe - souls waiting for the judgement day, the ability of dead (Jewish) saints to communicate through their idols, a person possessing a quite unbelievable good luck which is saving a whole locality from misfortunes, the highly accurate future forecasts made by astrologers and card readers etc. Of course, the motif makes sense when one thinks about how easy it is to lose the sense of reality in times of war and hostile governments: Dead people had emerged from the dungeons of the security services and nonexistent people appeared out of nowhere outside the doors of their relatives’ humble houses. There were people who had returned from long journeys with new names and new identities, women who had spent their childhoods in prison cells and had learned, before anything else in life, the rules and conventions for dealing with the warders." And so this book definitely held the promise till ... The monster decided to create a team and start killing criminals to revenge the killers of victims whose body parts made his own body. Yes, you heard it - talk about killing a book. As if it was not enough, he also does a self-interview for a newspaper. The characters remain forgettable and after the first quarter of the book, there is not much to keep one going.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    Set in the aftermath of America’s invasion of Iraq, “Frankenstein in Baghdad” portrays a city disintegrating under the strain of sectarian violence and dodgy leadership as the national military and American forces unevenly strive to establish order. Buildings are crumbling, families are moving out of the country and, after a junk dealer stitches together the body parts of bomb victims, this newly formed monster sets out on a killing rampage. I read this novel because it’s on the longlist for thi Set in the aftermath of America’s invasion of Iraq, “Frankenstein in Baghdad” portrays a city disintegrating under the strain of sectarian violence and dodgy leadership as the national military and American forces unevenly strive to establish order. Buildings are crumbling, families are moving out of the country and, after a junk dealer stitches together the body parts of bomb victims, this newly formed monster sets out on a killing rampage. I read this novel because it’s on the longlist for this year’s Man Booker International Prize. It’s particularly fascinating for me reading this modern reimagining of Frankenstein after having so recently read Mary Shelley’s classic novel. It’s notable how the novels are framed in a similar way. Shelley’s novel is a story about an explorer recording a dying doctor’s dramatic supernatural story. Saadawi similarly creates a story within a story about a man who wrote a novel after listening to the outrageous story he hears on a recording device. The way both Shelley and Saadawi’s novels are structured remove the reader slightly from the obviously fantastical elements of their stories and turn them into something more symbolic. Where Shelley concentrated more on themes of science and ambition, Saadawi is more concerned with creating a powerful message about the perpetual violence which is steadily destroying a great historic city. Read my full review of Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi on LonesomeReader

  20. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    3.5, rounded up. This novel was a surprise in many ways, and while I enjoyed reading it, I felt a distance between it and myself, and can't quite pinpoint why - although it could simply be a matter of my own lack of knowledge about the history of Iraq. Having read that Saadawi is a devotee of Hemingway, it could also be that his spare prose style didn't really leap off the page for me, or that the translation was a bit stilted. Some sections and characters were quite interesting and provided a f 3.5, rounded up. This novel was a surprise in many ways, and while I enjoyed reading it, I felt a distance between it and myself, and can't quite pinpoint why - although it could simply be a matter of my own lack of knowledge about the history of Iraq. Having read that Saadawi is a devotee of Hemingway, it could also be that his spare prose style didn't really leap off the page for me, or that the translation was a bit stilted. Some sections and characters were quite interesting and provided a fascinating view of contemporary Baghdad in all its myriad confusions - while others seemed bogged down in detail that didn't really resonate or go anywhere. As Shelley's original book is one of my favorite Gothic novels, I did appreciate how the author appropriated the essentials of that for his own purposes. So bottom line is that I am glad I read it, but it won't be on my list of the best books of the year.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    This is an unexpected, surreal read as a man fashions a corpse out of the remaining body parts of victims caught up in explosions in Baghdad, and the 'Frankenstein' is then animated by a soul without a body - and is on the loose in the city. The narrative itself feels like it's composed of many influences (like the many body parts that make up the creature): it has the feel of fables from One Thousand and One Nights, mixed with the tragic absurdity of Catch-22, and the eponymous Frankenstein. Vi This is an unexpected, surreal read as a man fashions a corpse out of the remaining body parts of victims caught up in explosions in Baghdad, and the 'Frankenstein' is then animated by a soul without a body - and is on the loose in the city. The narrative itself feels like it's composed of many influences (like the many body parts that make up the creature): it has the feel of fables from One Thousand and One Nights, mixed with the tragic absurdity of Catch-22, and the eponymous Frankenstein. Via this vehicle, we experience something of the real lives of Baghdad's inhabitants, mixing reality with something more fanciful. I enjoyed this but kept feeling that I was missing something - 3.5 stars.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    When I finished reading Frankenstein in Baghdad, I actually waited six hours to think about it and try gather my thoughts together. The novel is strange. On one hand I can easily give a superficial summary of the plot but then, due to the complexity of the metaphor I feel that I won’t giving the actual message any justice. But by focusing on the actual message, I’ll be deviating from the ‘superficial’ plot. Here goes though: A junk dealer wants to give a proper burial to his closest friend, who ha When I finished reading Frankenstein in Baghdad, I actually waited six hours to think about it and try gather my thoughts together. The novel is strange. On one hand I can easily give a superficial summary of the plot but then, due to the complexity of the metaphor I feel that I won’t giving the actual message any justice. But by focusing on the actual message, I’ll be deviating from the ‘superficial’ plot. Here goes though: A junk dealer wants to give a proper burial to his closest friend, who has been killed by an explosion so he collects bits and pieces of other explosion victims and turns it into a corpse. The soul of a freshly killed soldier finds the corpse and it comes to life and becomes a vigilante of sorts. Also the junk dealer’s next door neighbour has lost her son to war and thinks that the creature is a resurrected version of her son. Then there is the journalist who wants to interview the creature and comes to realise the monster’s true intentions and is more receptive to all the problems happening in Baghdad. To complicate matters, This monster may be a lie concocted by the junk dealer and he is the cause of all the murders as a form of revenge. Whether or not the monster is an idea or not Saadawi has written a powerful allegory about the political situation of Baghdad. Here is a place that is destroyed by bombs, individuals are tortured by the police and when the media tries to expose the truth, it cannot happen. Although my interpretation may be incorrect, I see the creature representing Baghdad: a killing corpse or it could be a place of madness due to the bombings and other madcap actions that occur. However what I thought was the novel’s strong point is how it captures the culture of Baghdad: the coffee shops, how people live and certain customs. Personally this is what I look for in a translated novel for I believe it should reflect the country it is based in; both positive and negative aspects. Frankenstein in Baghdad is a deceptively simple novel. There is a lot going on and rather than a funny book, I saw it as a savage satire about the craziness of a war torn city. Then again this novel is open to many interpretations but as I said everything makes sense after reflections, the fact that the novel is readable helps a lot. Saadawi has written a novel that works on all levels, Frankenstein in Baghdad has already gathered accolades in Saadawi’s country and a film is in production. If this novel does not get the recognition it deserves, i will be greatly disappointed for Frankenstein in Baghdad joins the ranks of political allegories such as Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue and Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. Although the book is more bizarre than the two novels mentioned it still has a hefty clout.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Edward Lorn

    Simply put, FRANKENSTEIN IN BAGHDAD does not deliver on its synopsis. We get none of the "scavenging" or "white-knuckle horror" promised on the back-cover copy. Instead, I experienced a disappointing story lacking emotion and literary flare. Easily one of my biggest letdowns of 2018. If you've read the original version in Arabic, I'd love to discuss what might have been lost in translation, because I cannot imagine any reason why this version of the book would've been a finalist for the Man Booke Simply put, FRANKENSTEIN IN BAGHDAD does not deliver on its synopsis. We get none of the "scavenging" or "white-knuckle horror" promised on the back-cover copy. Instead, I experienced a disappointing story lacking emotion and literary flare. Easily one of my biggest letdowns of 2018. If you've read the original version in Arabic, I'd love to discuss what might have been lost in translation, because I cannot imagine any reason why this version of the book would've been a finalist for the Man Booker Award. It was not, however, hot garbage, so I'm giving it two stars based solely on the clean writing and neat presentation.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Inderjit Sanghera

    The streets of Baghdad are haunted by ‘Whatsitsname’, a malevolent monster who harangues the guilty and innocent alike; the former for their crimes and the latter to retain his purity which is reflected by the nature of the body parts from which he is composed, the irony being that in doing so he loses his morality, which is the very thing he was trying to retain. In many ways ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’ acts as an allegory for the state of post-war Iraq, a country which was so deeply thrown into The streets of Baghdad are haunted by ‘Whatsitsname’, a malevolent monster who harangues the guilty and innocent alike; the former for their crimes and the latter to retain his purity which is reflected by the nature of the body parts from which he is composed, the irony being that in doing so he loses his morality, which is the very thing he was trying to retain. In many ways ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’ acts as an allegory for the state of post-war Iraq, a country which was so deeply thrown into disarray and dissension that it’s redeemer is a curmudgeonly made-up from the composite part of various citizens and whose sole means of control is violence. Otherwise the characters who inhabit the Baghdad of the novel are driven by their own private obsessions. Whether it is Elishva and her continued belief that her son Daniel, who is long dead, is still alive, or the creator of Whatsitsname, Hadi, whose glib and deceitful nature manifests itself in the creation of the monster. Saadawi’s matter-of-fact tone, coupled with the caricature like characters who inhabit the novel, sets a surreal tone to the novel, a tone which is at times somewhat unconvincing but whose arguments of the absurdities of war and the sectarian violence which has beset Iraq is a powerful one

  25. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    “There are no innocents who are completely innocent, and no criminals who are completely criminal… every criminal he had killed was also a victim.” Hats off to Jonathan Wright for his exquisite translation of Frankenstein in Baghdad , you cannot tell this was written in another language. Part fantasy, part sci-fi, part manifesto against war, this macabre yet poetic & oddly entertaining novel is an essential read! It has an almost cinematic feel to it, which is something I always enjoy in a boo “There are no innocents who are completely innocent, and no criminals who are completely criminal… every criminal he had killed was also a victim.” Hats off to Jonathan Wright for his exquisite translation of Frankenstein in Baghdad , you cannot tell this was written in another language. Part fantasy, part sci-fi, part manifesto against war, this macabre yet poetic & oddly entertaining novel is an essential read! It has an almost cinematic feel to it, which is something I always enjoy in a book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Z. F.

    "There are no innocents who are completely innocent or criminals who are completely criminal." I recently read an issue of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, "Ramadan," which was set in Baghdad in the 8th century. The city depicted in the comic is fantastical—full of wonders straight out of the One Thousand and One Nights, and ruled by a caliph who wishes he could preserve the magic of the place forever. For various reasons that can't happen, and so we see Baghdad drained of its magic; the comic ends wit "There are no innocents who are completely innocent or criminals who are completely criminal." I recently read an issue of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, "Ramadan," which was set in Baghdad in the 8th century. The city depicted in the comic is fantastical—full of wonders straight out of the One Thousand and One Nights, and ruled by a caliph who wishes he could preserve the magic of the place forever. For various reasons that can't happen, and so we see Baghdad drained of its magic; the comic ends with a fast-forward to the Baghdad of the Gulf War, a drab and desolate city where grubby children and old beggars roam the streets. The implication is clear: whatever enchantment the capitol of Iraq may have possessed in old stories, it's long since been turned into a colorless ruin. You and I both know that's a condescending view, but it's in keeping with pretty much the only image of Baghdad we see in western media today: the streets deserted, the buildings toppled or crumbling, the air clogged with dust and gunfire. We're shown images of bombed-out marketplaces, and of American troops in desert camo kicking down doors. We're told that people in Iraq—like people all across the whole swath of the world we call "the Middle East"—practice Islam, and in the best of cases we might get a cursory mention of the Sunni/Shi'ite divide. Asked to identify a specific Iraqi person by name, it's doubtful most white Americans could get much further than Saddam Hussein. I don't think Ahmed Saadawi set out specifically to correct the misconceptions of ignorant Americans (he wrote Frankenstein in Baghdad in Arabic, after all), but one of the many side benefits of good fiction is that it can challenge our biases without even intending to. The Baghdad Saadawi evokes is troubled by war, of course, but it hasn’t been flattened by bullets and bombs. Even at the height of the second U.S. invasion this Baghdad is still a bustling modern city, full of all the kinds of people you’d meet anywhere in the world: there are locals and expats, artists and realtors and junk dealers and politicians, Orthodox Christians and Muslims of all stripes and people who don't affiliate with any religion at all, unless maybe if it benefits them to do so. Bombings and skirmishes happen, in some neighborhoods more than others, but they're not all that happen, and for most of the characters they're not even particularly interesting. Americans, when they show up at all, are refreshingly peripheral. Nevertheless this is still definitely a book about war, or maybe more accurately a book about wartime—the ways in which the menace of violence can encroach on even the most insulated or isolated of lives. To illustrate this point, Saadawi adds a new twist to the familiar premise of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: there's a reanimated corpse, but this time it's composed from the salvaged body parts of bombing victims. Referred to by its unassuming creator as the "Whatitsname," this creature makes it its mission to avenge the lives of those whose pieces it contains. But we all know revenge is a slippery slope, and the more the creature kills the more new targets it finds to direct its violence against. It's a clever metaphor for the escalation of war, made complete by the various factions who try to bend the Whatitsname's mission to their own ends. War, Saadawi shows us, can never be contained, can never remain "just" or "fair," no matter how noble the causes we may initially project onto it. This is the second novel I've read this year (the first being Omar El Akkad's American War ) which uses a speculative fiction premise to examine the legacy of warfare in the Middle East. El Akkad's approach is more on-the-nose than Saadawi's, an allegory where the key players' roles are reversed while the details of the conflict remain the same. But I have to say I found Frankenstein in Baghdad the more compelling book, and the more nuanced one. I wouldn't say I always loved reading it—the subject matter is challenging, and I could definitely make some artistic gripes if I wanted to—but the blend of satire, horror, and literary homage, the fusion of social realism and magical realism, the condemnation of war's terrors on the one hand and the celebration of a city uncowed by war on the other, made it a unique and instructive experience, unlike anything else I can readily call to mind. For that reason and others, I'd definitely recommend it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mairi

    Eerie, creepy, often hilarious ... Frankenstein in Baghdad is a modern retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein insofar as it features a "monster" stitched together from the body parts of war victims, who reanimates and, well, had a thirst for blood. What I loved most about this book was it's setting - US occupied Iraq. A region and an era painted black by media I've grown up consuming, retold from the point of view of someone there. This story is charming, the characters heartfelt and the whole Eerie, creepy, often hilarious ... Frankenstein in Baghdad is a modern retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein insofar as it features a "monster" stitched together from the body parts of war victims, who reanimates and, well, had a thirst for blood. What I loved most about this book was it's setting - US occupied Iraq. A region and an era painted black by media I've grown up consuming, retold from the point of view of someone there. This story is charming, the characters heartfelt and the whole thing ironically (since it's about an inhuman monster) humanising. I only rated it 4/5 as I wasn't always following it ... But I think that's my problem, not the book! I listened to this with my partner out loud over a few weekends. I say this because the Audible narration was perfection, but the book is richer and deserves more attention than I probably gave it!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    A well-executed tale of, well, Frankenstein in Baghdad. From the Man Booker International Prize shortlist, this book is a fascinating and at times witty meditation on grief and guilt.Definitely different!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    When Mahmoud did the layout for the magazine, he illustrated the article with a large photo of Robert De Niro from the film of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Mahmoud wasn't happy when he got a copy of the issue, especially when he saw that his headline had been changed. “Frankenstein in Baghdad,” Saidi shouted, a big smile on his face. Mahmoud had been trying to be truthful and objective, but Saidi was all about hype. Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi won the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction f When Mahmoud did the layout for the magazine, he illustrated the article with a large photo of Robert De Niro from the film of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Mahmoud wasn't happy when he got a copy of the issue, especially when he saw that his headline had been changed. “Frankenstein in Baghdad,” Saidi shouted, a big smile on his face. Mahmoud had been trying to be truthful and objective, but Saidi was all about hype. Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi won the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction for Frankenstein in Baghdad; which led to an English translation, a nod from the International Man Booker Prize for 2018, and it landing in my own hands. The prose here is terse and spare, the narrative walks a blurry line between journalism and allegory, and it would be hard to call this an enjoyable read, but I'll tell you this for nothing: If an Iraqi novelist attempts to capture what life was like for the residents of an American-occupied Baghdad circa 2005, the reading world ought to be interested in that. I was certainly interested, and while I'd consider four stars a rounding up, that reflects more my personal tastes than Saadawi's effort. Slightly spoilerish review to follow. He went to the shed, which he had assembled out of scraps of furniture, iron bars, and sections of kitchen units he leaned up against the piece of wall that still remained, and squatted down at one end. The rest of the shed was dominated by a massive corpse – the body of a naked man, with viscous liquids, light in color, oozing from parts of it. There was only a little blood – some small dried patches on the arms and legs, and some grazes and bruises around the shoulders and neck. It was hard to say what color the skin was – it didn't have a uniform color. Hadi moved further into the narrow space around the body and sat down close to the head. The area where the nose should have been was badly disfigured, as if a wild animal had bitten a chunk out of it. Hadi opened the canvas sack and took out the thing. In recent days he had spent hours looking for one like it, yet he was still uneasy handling it. It was a fresh nose, still coated in congealed, dark red blood. He hand trembling, he positioned it in the black hole in the corpse's face. It was a perfect fit, as though the corpse had its own nose back. Frankenstein in Baghdad revolves around a few central characters: Hadi is a junk dealer who, after his business partner was blown apart by a suicide bomber, decided to assemble a complete corpse to present back to the authorities in order to remind them that these random parts were once people; Elishva is an old woman who refuses to leave her home in case her son Danny – who was unwillingly conscripted into the Iran-Iraq War twenty years earlier and never heard from again – ever comes home; Faraj is an unscrupulous real estate agent who is trying to trick Elshiva (and other desperate home and business owners) out of their property; and Mahmoud is a journalist trying to make sense of all the strange stories being passed around the city's cafes and hotel lobbies – could there really be a monster stalking the streets of Baghdad? As soon as Hadi sews on that nose, the corpse is complete, and when a hotel security guard is vaporised by a truck bomb, his rootless soul finds and enters the vessel: With his hand, which was made of primordial matter, he touched the pale, naked body and saw his spirit sink into it. His whole arm sank in, then his head and the rest of his body. Overwhelmed by a heaviness and torpor, he lodged inside the corpse, filling it from head to toe, because probably, he realized then, it didn't have a soul, while he was a soul without a body. The immediate effects of this reanimation are: Hadi wakes up one morning to discover the corpse is missing, and when stories of the murderous, roaming monster begin to surface, he regrets how freely he had been in discussing his project in the local cafes and hotel lobbies; Elshiva welcomes the monster into her home, gives him some of Danny's clothes, and tells the neighbourhood that her son has returned; Faraj feels thwarted in his efforts to get the mad old woman's house and begins to plot; Mahmoud follows the trail of stories, finding himself being given a behind-the-scenes view of the hidden Baghdad power structure as his personal prestige grows. And the monster: the monster is compelled to take revenge on behalf of the original owners of each of his body parts – which, in the beginning, seems a rational and humane motive for stalking and killing – but as he begins to gather a following who replace his rotting parts as they fall off, he experiences a type of mission creep; justifying the killing of random people because, “There are no innocents who are completely innocent or criminals who are completely criminal.” Even the book's title makes it clear that the metaphorical monster is a Western transplant – this is Frankenstein in Baghdad, not simply Baghdad's Frankenstein – and as an allegory for the chaos unintentionally unleashed on Baghdad's streets by Coalition Forces, this narrative works well. It would seem that much of this book can be read as an allegory, with frequent touches of Magical Realism: not only can an untethered soul reanimate a rotting, stitched-together corpse, but the Iraqi government has a Tracking and Pursuit Department – staffed with magicians and astrologers who can predict where the next suicide attack will occur – Elshiva's portrait of St George routinely comes to life, and even the monster employs magicians (and madmen) among his followers. In an interesting framing device, we eventually learn that Mahmoud sent all of his research to a novelist – referred to as “The Writer” – and it remains uncertain to what degree this author took literary liberties with the “facts” himself as he wrote the chapters of this book. In a late scene, it is revealed that the Tracking and Pursuit Department – whose astrologers actually do seem to have prognostic powers – is in fact a front for an Assassination Squad: For a year or more he's been carrying out the policy of the American ambassador to create an equilibrium of violence on the streets between the Sunni and the Shiite militias, so there'll be a balance later at the negotiating table to make new political arrangements in Iraq. The American army is unable or unwilling to stop the violence, so at least a balance or an equivalence of violence has to be created. Without it, there won't be a successful political process. Ah, so the unleashing of the actual monster was never an accident. Put aside the big literary structure, and Frankenstein in Baghdad is still a valuable portrait of the lives of ordinary citizens of 2005's Baghdad: war widows and grieving mothers; near-daily suicide bombings; business owners sinking into poverty as foreign dollars dry up; being roughed up and robbed by members of your own government; coming home to a big American soldier jumping out of his Hummer and saying you're not allowed onto your own street; Christians living peacefully beside observant and non-practising Muslims, the Jews only present in the “ruins” they left behind. There's a lot to chew on with this book, and I'm happy to have read it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    Baghdad, a city torn apart by conflict, where car bombs sow death on a numbingly regular basis. Baghdad, a city where the balance between different cultures and faiths, delicate at the best of times, is jeopardised by covert lobbies and political pressure groups. Baghdad, a city whose sons and daughters are sacrificed – lost or dead in wars, or emigrants in foreign countries, lured by the promise of peace. These daily horrors are transformed by Ahmed Saadawi into a contemporary Gothic novel, in Baghdad, a city torn apart by conflict, where car bombs sow death on a numbingly regular basis. Baghdad, a city where the balance between different cultures and faiths, delicate at the best of times, is jeopardised by covert lobbies and political pressure groups. Baghdad, a city whose sons and daughters are sacrificed – lost or dead in wars, or emigrants in foreign countries, lured by the promise of peace. These daily horrors are transformed by Ahmed Saadawi into a contemporary Gothic novel, in which the violence which stalks the streets of Baghdad is personified in the figure of the monstrous “Whatsisname”. Pieced together by Hadi the Junk Dealer from body parts of car bomb victims, the Whatsisname is animated by the soul of Hasib Mohamed Jaafar, a hotel guard killed in a terrorist attack. The spark which joins body and soul is the constant prayer of old Elishva, who has not yet lost hope of the return of her son Daniel, lost decades before in the Iran-Iraq War. The “Whatsitsname” embarks on a mission of righteous revenge against criminals, only to become himself (itself?) drawn into a vicious cycle of violence. Frankenstein in Baghdad won its author the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014 and is now available in a brilliant English translation by Jonathan Wright. It was suggested to me by my Goodreads friend Alan as a work of “Iraqi Gothic”. And “Gothic” it certainly is. After all, it features a monster nicknamed by the Baghdadi newspapers as “Frankenstein”, it contains brief but stomach-churning passages of body horror and it recycles and adapts several tropes of the genre. The ruins of old are replaced by bombed-out buildings, the cemeteries substituted by the tragic scenes following the umpteenth terrorist attack. There is also more than a nod to the Gothic in the fragmented narrative and the recurring theme of mistaken identities. Thus, the book opens with a “Final Report” about the shadowy “Tracking and Pursuit Department” which casts doubt on the veracity of the whole story as presented to us. Part of the novel is a transcript of an interview recorded by the monster himself or, possibly, an impostor posing as him. Throughout, there is a sense that “nothing is but what is not”. Yet, particularly in its initial chapters, what the novel reminded me of were not the classics of the Gothic but, rather, the works of Mikhail Bulgakov. In fact, as in Bulgakov, the fantastical elements often have a whimsical, surreal, fairy-tale tinge quite unlike traditional “supernatural” fiction – saints speak from icons, astrologers assist the army, the souls of the dead meet for chats. There is also a strong streak of dark humour and satire which sometimes had me laughing aloud. Admittedly, the novel becomes increasingly grim as it progresses and the final scene is poignant, bleak and very effective. It was recently announced that the novel would be turned into a film. I certainly look forward to that. This unusual and striking novel certainly deserves to be well-known.

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