Book Review: Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi

A beautiful satire about our recent history of what it was like to live in Baghdad under the US occupation and in the chaos of the country where suicide bombing is the norm rather than the exception. Everyone in the book has lost someone. Everyone is going to sleep in the bed while outside there’s gunfire. The most memorable line in the book is about the maker of Frankenstein wondering if he will die from the falling bullets. Just a passing thought, and then he goes to sleep. The book is full of little remarks enchanting the story, telling a side of the Iraq war and occupation we rarely get to see.

So what is it all about? It is a story of several characters whose fates are tied together by living in the same neighborhood and having conflicting interests in property and life. They all are doing their best in the current situation. In the midst of that, Hadi, the junk dealer, puts a corps together from bits and pieces of those who have died. It’s a project out of sadness, having lost a friend, means, and hope. And on one unfortunate night, the corpse comes alive. This is more of a magical realism book with fortune-telling, saints, and ghost rather than a science, horror book as Frankenstein was. But as with the original, this one has an important story to tell. It’s about the sorrows and losses the people endure every day, and yet they go on as it’s the norm. There doesn’t seem to be an end to the violence and desperation, and there our Frankenstein steps in. I won’t go further into details as you need to discover the story. But the story is about guilt and innocence in a horrible situation. And if such things can exist or be judged in the state of violence and anarchy. Not to mention doing the right thing and living by laws.

About the prose. The book jumps inside and into situations in the middle of chapters, sometimes without adjusting to the transition. You get used to the jumps. Another thing that makes the book harder to follow is the wide range of characters. It isn’t clear why they are important, why you have to care for them, and who to follow. The book starts by following Elishva, an old woman who lives with her cat, prays for her saints, and sees the future. Then we jump into Hadi, the junk dealer, and then to Mahmoud al-Sawadi, a reporter. I kind of like them all. Maybe it’s their sadness and pitifulness that speaks to me. They feel and are human and their own person.

I think Saadawi has written something moving and important. It gives a humane perspective of war, occupation, and what it is to live in a torn country. He balances satire about loss and grief well with the magical realism of djinns, magicians, ghosts, and saints. I would love if there was a happy ending, an avenger who would get all it right and wipe away the sorrows of this grandeur, but bombs are still going off and bullets still fall when all people want is to hug their sons and daughters and sleep in peace.

Thank you for reading, and have a good day ❤

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