Frankenstein in Baghdad
by Ahmed Saadawi (Trans. Jonathan Wright)
Contemporary Fiction / Magical Realism
Published in Arabic in 2013, in English 2018
This book won at least two awards; the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and France’s Grand Prize for Fantasy, and the author had previously been named one of the 39 best Arab authors under the age of 39. I picked it up to read for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge, since the Middle East is all-too-often neglected in regional groupings like that. People don’t think of it as Europe or Asia. I also try to read translated books on occasion, in an effort to diversify my reading. So this hit a number of my interests – I wish I had actually liked the book more!
It’s an interesting retelling of Frankenstein – which I haven’t actually read, and now feel like I really should. But it bounces around between several viewpoints. It’s not too many to keep straight, but it’s definitely too many to truly care about. And it suffers from an unreliable narrator – it’s written as several stories told to an author from multiple people that he’s woven together into a single narrative, and while he does that well, it suffers from contradictions between how different characters recall things, scenes that don’t play a part in furthering the plot but the characters thought they were important, and no authoritative “this is what REALLY happened” to draw it all together.
And I very much dislike unreliable narrators, so that alone is enough to make me dislike the book. If you like ambiguous narratives and vigilante stories, however, you might enjoy this, and the writing style itself was quite engrossing.
From the cover of Frankenstein in Baghdad:
From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi – a scavenger and an oddball fixture at the local cafe – 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. 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. With white-knuckle horror and black humor, Frankenstein in Baghdad captures the surreal reality of contemporary Iraq.