Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi review – ingeniously blends absurdist horror with satire
Featuring a disparate cast of Iraqi characters, this story seamlessly moves between the surreal and the intensely real
Frankenstein in Baghdad
Ahmen Saadawi, translated by Jonathan Wright
This adroitly written work of literary fiction ingeniously blends absurdist horror with a mordantly funny satire about life in a war-torn city where carnage is the norm. Translated nimbly by Jonathan Wright, the macabre yet surreal Frankenstein in Baghdad won Ahmed Saadawi the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
From wandering souls and avenging corpses to daily car bombs and Americans colluding with government to create an “equilibrium” of violence in the streets, to have more leverage at negotiations, nothing is too far fetched in the Baghdad of 2005. Death is omnipresent here, and at times your mortality is literally a matter of which street you choose to take home on a particular day.
“I’m the first true Iraqi citizen,” the monster boldly proclaims. Created inadvertently by a misanthropic junk collector, he is a patchwork of ethnically diverse body parts from the victims covering the streets of the Iraqi capital, and he is now seeking to avenge their deaths. That in itself is a potent allegory about the nonpartisan savagery of war. Featuring a disparate cast of Iraqi characters, this story seamlessly moves between the surreal and the intensely real. Extraordinary in its scope and inventiveness, Saadawi’s subtly political yet effectively metaphorical story is a stark reminder of how violence begets violence.