Sidharth Vardhan

Review of ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’

Frankenstein in baghdad review analysis sidharth vardhan
Categories: ,
Published: 2013
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…

(A review by of
Frankenstein in Baghdad
a novel by Ahmed Saadawi
shortlisted for International Man Booker 2018
For English translation by Jonathan Wright
First written on May 20, 2018)

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 various 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."

Ahmed Saadawi ( Frankenstein in Baghdad)

Ahmed sadaawi Frankenstein in Baghdad sidharth Vardhan
Ahmed Sadaawi

Another thing that raised my hopes is  - 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."

Ahmed Saadawi ( Frankenstein in Baghdad)

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.

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