Thursday, 1 February 2018

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi
First published in Arabic in 2013. English language translation by Jonathan Wright published by OneWorld in the UK and Australia today, the 1st February 2018.

F for my 2018 Alphabet Soup Challenge and featured in WorldReads: Iraq

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository (PB)
Wordery (PB)
Waterstones (PB)
Amazon (PB)

From the rubble-strewn streets of US-occupied Baghdad, Hadi – a scavenger and an oddball fixture at the 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 a 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 killed.

Hadi soon realizes he's created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive. As the violence escalates and Hadi's acquaintances – a journalist, a government worker, a lonely older woman – become involved, the Whatsitsname and the havoc it wreaks assume a magnitude far greater than anyone could have imagined. An extraordinary achievement, at once horrific and blackly humorous, Frankenstein in Baghdad captures the surreal reality of contemporary Baghdad.

I enjoyed this Arabic take on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein story. Ahmed Saadawi transposes the creation of Frankenstein's monster from Arctic ice floes to the heat of Baghdad and scientist Victor is now junk dealer Hadi, a teller of fantastical tales who no one is quite sure whether to believe when he begins to talk of a strange stitched-together man.

Frankenstein In Baghdad is set in the ruins of the city outside of the glamorous American Green Zone. We occasionally see the occupation army zooming past in jeeps or shouting from behind gun barrels, but this is very much a novel of poor ordinary people trying to continue to live in a disaster area. Saadawi has created memorable characters including elderly Elishva who clings on in the desperate hope that her lost son might still return; journalist Mahmoud who gets a glimpse of the good life when his editor boss takes a shine to him; hotelier Abu Anmar who used to preside over a thriving establishment, but is now selling off the furniture to buy food. This Baghdad is primarily populated by the elderly and the infirm, people who are easily taken advantage of and cannot easily escape the daily car bomb explosions.

That said, this is not a depressing read! Black humour sparkles through between shocking and macabre scenes. Elishva's single-mindedness is almost inspirational and the coffee shop conversations are often great fun. I wondered about the existence of the monster himself. Is he even 'real'? One lone avenger or all the ordinary Baghdad people each independently avenging themselves? And what makes up a criminal anyway? Frankenstein In Baghdad is an entertaining book to simply read and take at face value, but it's also one that asks unsettling questions. A good choice for book clubs I think.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Ahmed Saadawi / Science fiction / Books from Iraq


  1. I really love the original book which I read in 2017 so I am interested in this Arabic retelling of the story! I especially appreciate that there is black humor in there to lighten the mood at some times. :)

    1. Saadawi has done a good job of making his own story, but without losing the original

  2. You rec'd me this, and I want to read it, but I never actually saw your review. This does sound like an interesting one!

    1. Yes! I really enjoyed this retelling and appreciated how Saadawi transposed the story to such a contemporary setting