Frankenstein in Baghdad

Ahmed Saadawi

Book cover

I don’t remember now where I first heard about this book (maybe the January 2018 NYT review?), but it had me at the one-sentence description: an Iraqi man creates a Frankensteinian monster from the body parts of people killed in bombings in modern day Baghdad. And, I believe this is the first book I’ve read by an Iraqi author.

I enjoyed Saadawi’s modernization of Shelley’s classic weird tale. I found it interesting that he chose not to use mystery or suspense as a main component of the story–from just about the beginning, the reader is aware of how and why the Whatsitsname (Saadawi’s term for the monster) was created. The heart of the story is instead the way Iraqi people from different walks of life relate to it–a junk dealer, a failed hotelier, a pious widow, a journalist, a government operative. I liked the way that Saadawi incorporated themes of guilt and innocence, and the self-perpetuating violence of conflict, into the nature of the Whatsitsname itself (including, much like Shelley’s original, the monster’s own erudite self-reflection and rumination). And most of all, I appreciated that this was an Iraqi story told from an Iraqi perspective–the Americans are certainly there in the Baghdad of the story, but only as part of the background setting.

It’s been ages since I read “Foucault’s Pendulum,” but I think this book has a similar feel, with the weird admixture of occultism, publishing, and the normal modern world. But Saadawi’s book is much more readable!

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars