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This is an inventive and fresh take on a classic story It s also the first novel I ve ever read I think that is translated from Arabic Don t expect this to be as horrifying or thrilling as the blurb leads you to believe it s muchintrospective and comments on war, humanity, and learning to let go The translation was top notch and it read very naturally in English Overall a unique reading experience that I might never have had if this novel hadn t been nominated for this year s Man Bo This is an inventive and fresh take on a classic story It s also the first novel I ve ever read I think that is translated from Arabic Don t expect this to be as horrifying or thrilling as the blurb leads you to believe it s muchintrospective and comments on war, humanity, and learning to let go The translation was top notch and it read very naturally in English Overall a unique reading experience that I might never have had if this novel hadn t been nominated for this year s Man Booker International prize the reason I love literary prizes If you re into stuff like this, you can read the full review.Hemingwayesque Style Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed SaadawiFinished Ahmed Saadawi s Frankenstein in Baghdad It s worth contrasting with Shelley s Frankenstein Shelley writes about Frankenstein s misuse of Science, i.e., galvanism, in creating an ultimately vengeful Creature, existing primarily in a Romantic world of wild nature, the background of which is the setting for the novel Saadawi s Frankenstein in Baghdad, OTOH, is s If you re into stuff like this, you can read the full review.Hemingwayesque Style Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed SaadawiFinished Ahmed Saadawi s Frankenstein in Baghdad It s worth contrasting with Shelley s Frankenstein Shelley writes about Frankenstein s misuse of Science, i.e., galvanism, in creating an ultimately vengeful Creature, existing primarily in a Romantic world of wild nature, the background of which is the setting for the novel Saadawi s Frankenstein in Baghdad, OTOH, is set in an urban hell of murders, car bombings, massacres and various varieties of sectarian warfare Faith or Madness I find it possible to read Frankenstein in Baghdad with or without irony It flows just as well either way as an edifying symbolic story of courage and the will to survive in modern Iraqi reality or as the precise opposite, a condemnation of the symbols which constitute that reality Saadawi uses an established literary reference to create this ambiguity the monster formed by chaos Saadawi s monster is assembled and refreshed from the body parts of bomb victims It is enli Faith or Madness I find it possible to read Frankenstein in Baghdad with or without irony It flows just as well either way as an edifying symbolic story of courage and the will to survive in modern Iraqi reality or as the precise opposite, a condemnation of the symbols which constitute that reality Saadawi uses an established literary reference to create this ambiguity the monster formed by chaos Saadawi s monster is assembled and refreshed from the body parts of bomb victims It is enlivened by prayers directed to St George as it happens the patron of England, a coalition partner in the Iraqi occupation Similar ironies pop up and annihilate each other like particles of matter and anti matter throughout the text.Saadawi s story takes place amid the profound spiritual as well as social dislocation of war The monster of Frankenstein, the man constructed by man out of decaying remnants from the past, is the perfect trope for representing the reconstruction of civilization Just as compelling, Shelley s story of the monster has its roots in the Eastern European Jewish legend of the Golem, a creature formed through mystical prayer whose function is the protection of the community during just such a period of extreme stress.The principle plot device used by Saadawi, therefore, is that of miracle working A classical example of the genre is the Book of Signs in the Gospel of John The allusion seems apt since the Frankenstein character Saadawi portrays is a combination of a devout Christian woman and a superstitious junk dealer living next door in the Jewish house Like Saadawi s story, John s gospel uses the factual and the mystical interchangeably in order to connect a new appreciation of the world with a past that seems to have lost its relevance Another fleeting irony John s gospel is the most anti Semitic of the four Christian narratives of Jesus it was written after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem Not coincidentally, perhaps, the Jewish house is a ruin.The Book of Signs demonstrates how the technique of writing about miracles works It contains reports on each of seven miracles performed by Jesus All of these miracles can be interpreted either as factual or allegorical, or, in fact, as both simultaneously For example, the first, and probably best known, miracle of the changing of water into wine at the wedding of Cana can be taken literally as testimony about the transformation of a physical substance On the other hand some exegetes believe it is not the account of an event but primarily represents a symbolic claim by Jesus to be himself the new wine which will nourish the world The symbolism further suggests Jesus as the new Moses, who changed the water of the Nile to blood Which interpretation is theaccurate Orimportant Orfaithful Or, for that matter,superstitious Miracles are the presumed suspension of the physical laws of the universe by divine action But, as in the Golem and Shelley s and Saadawi s monsters, they are theologically problematic not just because of their literary functions but also because their mere possibility is a scandal for religious faith On the one hand, miracles are seen as evidence of God s power on the other hand, they are equally clear evidence of God s profound arbitrariness If miracles do occur, they are the result of actions by a patently capricious deity who has the power to relieve the suffering of creation but generally chooses to permit, and even cause, such suffering Miracles therefore tend to get out of hand conceptually.Miracles also demonstrate the rather tenuous link between faithful devotion and divine assistance Some of John s miracles, for example, depend on very specific faith in Jesus s abilities others on faith in atranscendental and abstract divine power and others have no connection with faith whatsoever but are apparently random demonstrations of divine whimsy Therefore, even believers may not want to press miracles too seriously as factual events, asthan allegorical St Paul himself counsels against looking for signs as proof of divine action Saadawi s female protagonist has her prayer miraculously answered after decades of fervent prayer but in an obviously distorted and unexpected way.So Frankenstein in Baghdad can be read as a tale of the power of religious faith in a time of profound disruption and simultaneously as a story of the self deception in which everyone involved in war participates It is a literary optical illusion which captures the essential ambiguity created by human violence in its obscene destructiveness and its bizarre creativity Religion is part of the problem as well as the solution to conflict It is necessary to survive but at a cost Religious belief persists but it is itself transformed as its benign and malicious effects are actualized It appears, then, that Sophocles was correct evil appears as good in the minds of those whom the gods lead to destruction The same might be said of miracles, which can be, equally, symptoms of human madness or transcendental faith.Postscript Foron the problematic theology of miracles, see I have never read anything like this, and I severely doubt that I will read a better book this year Like one of the many and I mean many detonations we are witnessing in this text, the story, the timeline and the point of view simply explode right in our faces, again and again, and just like the characters, we are forced to piece everything together will we succeed in doing this And what kind of monster are we creating by devoting ourselves to this Sisyphean task In case you re wondering I have never read anything like this, and I severely doubt that I will read a better book this year Like one of the many and I mean many detonations we are witnessing in this text, the story, the timeline and the point of view simply explode right in our faces, again and again, and just like the characters, we are forced to piece everything together will we succeed in doing this And what kind of monster are we creating by devoting ourselves to this Sisyphean task In case you re wondering whether this book really offers cutting edge political commentary, just take in the exposition of the story When Hadi, a middle aged junk dealer, loses his best friend Nahem in an explosion caused by a suicide bomber, he wants to make sure Nahem gets a proper burial but for this, he needs a complete corpse, so Hadi decides to substitute the missing parts with the body parts of other victims of violence that he finds in the streets of Baghdad You guessed it The completed corpse, called Whatsitsname by Hadi, is entered by a displaced soul and comes to life And not only that, the Whatsitsname wants revenge for the deaths of the people whose body parts he is composed of, and goes on a killing spree through Baghdad.But wait a minute, maybe this didn t even happen Maybe Hadi is just an alcoholic liar and made it all up Or maybe the Whatsitsname is an urban legend and a personification of people s fears Or of people s longing for justice Maybe the Whatsitsname works for the Iraqi government Or the Americans Or the terrorists Or one of the militias Maybe the whole story was distorted by the media Who the hell knows Which brings us to the heart of this book In war torn Baghdad, a whole society is exploding Absolutely nothing is certain any, it becomes impossible to trust anyone or to verify information It becomes dubious who stands on what side, who is spying on whom, and when and how the innocent become criminals Human solidarity collapses over a variety of conflicts, and people get trapped in a circle of violence and revenge How do you piece a human life or a whole society back together Saadawi starts by telling this story The topic of fragmentation is also represented in the narrative style, which jumps in time and between perspectives, and while the narrator is omniscient, he certainly does not share all of his knowledge with the reader The connection between personal experiences and the destiny of society as a whole as well as the connection between the people inside and outside of the novel gets apparent when the author of Frankenstein in Baghdad , Ahmed Saadawi, becomes a character in the book, where he meets a journalist named Mahmoud al Sawadi the names Mahmoud and Ahmed both go back to Muhammad and mean praise Mahmoud is carrying a big secret about his family s origin one of the many breathtaking ideas this book throws at its readers.This novel gives you what the best news report can t offer It s the magic of literature, and this is a true masterpiece Sample quoteBecause I m made up of body parts of people from diverse backgrounds ethnicities, tribes, races and social classes I represent the impossible mix that never was achieved in the past I m the first true Iraqi citizen, he the Whatsitsname thinks My fourth book from the MBI shortlist and sixth including the longlist this was probably the one I enjoyed least.The perspective on Baghdad from an Iraqi is not one we hear much of so that was interesting, but I didn t feel the Frankenstein element of the story worked very well and I am not sure that much of the humour translated An interesting book but not an essential one. reading these book reminded the daily horror many people face from Baghdad to Kabul to Mogadishuwhere death toll raises so much that it hardens your heart and just recite the numbers of victims of these or that explosions without pondering behind these numbers lies people who lived loved and had families but cowardly hand of death stole them from their beloved one.not knowing if you leavehome you will return safely you prepare your will and recite it before you step out of the house and pray you reading these book reminded the daily horror many people face from Baghdad to Kabul to Mogadishuwhere death toll raises so much that it hardens your heart and just recite the numbers of victims of these or that explosions without pondering behind these numbers lies people who lived loved and had families but cowardly hand of death stole them from their beloved one.not knowing if you leavehome you will return safely you prepare your will and recite it before you step out of the house and pray you return to your home in one pieceLonger review to come |Free ⚇ Frankenstein in Baghdad ♵ From the rubble strewn streets of US occupied Baghdad, Hadi a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local caf 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 killed 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 Frankenstein in Baghdad was originally published in Arabic in 2013 In 2014, it was awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction sometimes known as the Arabic Booker It is now early 2018 being made available in English translation by Jonathan Wright Writing in the New York Times in 2014, Tim Arango saidMr Saadawi is at the vanguard of a small group of writers starting to interpret, through fiction, the trauma wrought from the American invasion of 2003And you can judge ho Frankenstein in Baghdad was originally published in Arabic in 2013 In 2014, it was awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction sometimes known as the Arabic Booker It is now early 2018 being made available in English translation by Jonathan Wright Writing in the New York Times in 2014, Tim Arango saidMr Saadawi is at the vanguard of a small group of writers starting to interpret, through fiction, the trauma wrought from the American invasion of 2003And you can judge how important this book is for the Iraqi people from the fact that the article goes on to quote another Iraqi author Ibrahim Abdul Jabbar as saying about Saadawi, and this book in particular, thatHe has given us faith that Iraq is still alive, and we are the ones who can make change if we have the will In fact, the whole article by Arango is worth reading here.Framed as a story developed from documents sent to the author by a source within the Tracking and Pursuit Department, Frankenstein in Baghdad tells the story a monster on the loose in Baghdad It is magical realism It is gothic horror It is an exploration of the damage done to property, culture and people by the war.I was staggered to discover this Wikipedia page when doing some background research The book is set in 2005 the year of the first free elections after the fall of Hussein and this page lists the acts of terror in Iraq during that year Wikipedia It is a sobering read and the book itself is punctuated by ongoing acts of terror suicide bombings We learn a bit of what it is to live in a city scarred by war and its consequences For an outsider e.g me this is harrowing reading, but it is impossible not to pause and imagine what it must be like for the actual inhabitants of the city and what it must be like to read this book if you have been part of the story it tells.The book begins with a suicide bombingThe explosion was horrific and here Hadi looked to Aziz for confirmation Hadi had run out of the coffee shop He had been eating some of the beans that Ali al Sayed made in the shop next door and that Hadi ate for breakfast every morning On his way out of the shop he collided with people running from the explosion The smell suddenly hit his nostrils the smoke, the burning of plastic and seat cushions, the roasting of human flesh You wouldn t have smelled anything like it in your life and would never forget it And this sets the tone for the book where everyday actions of living in the city coffee, breakfast, etc are mingled with acts of terror and gore In fact, in one of life s unpleasant coincidences, the day I wrote this review 15 Jan 2018 was marked by a huge suicide bombing in the same city square as the one that opens this book, making the message of this book all theimportant and contemporary.Near the start of the book, we meet Hadi who has assembled a corpse from body parts he has gathered in the aftermath of the multiple suicide bombings that are destroying Baghdad By a bizarre series of events, that corpse is animated and becomes the Frankenstein type of the book s title The creature becomes a metaphor for the war that has wreaked havoc in Baghdad Initially, the Whatsitsname the label given to the creature sets out to kill the people responsible for the deaths of those who make up his body But, like war, it does not stop thereThere s no harm in warning him so he doesn t offend me again I m now taking revenge on people who insult me, not just on those who did violence to those whose body parts I m made of, the Whatsitsname said.The killing gets out of control, mirroring the impact and destructive patterns of war in the city.The book is all thechilling for the sparsity of its prose Saadawi does not mess around with words, but he does notice some macabre details that bring home the reality of life in a war torn cityIn the coffin they put his burned black shoes his shredded, bloodstained clothes and small charred parts of his body And, in parallel with the story of the Whatsitsname, we see other stories of people in Baghdad as they develop and interact It is worthwhile spending some time on the character list at the start of the book as this makes the story easier to follow, especially for Western readers who will find some of the names hard to remember Don t be fooled by the title this is not just a horror story about a monster It is about people, it is about life in Iraq, it is about the consequences of war.This has all the feel of a very important book Important primarily for the people it is about and who must be its primary target But also important for the rest of the world, which makes its English translation a significant event As Arango says in his reviewFor the Americans, though, turning their experiences into fiction is a retrospective act, because their war ended For Iraqis like Mr Saadawi, the war is still their present, haunting their reality even as they try to make the best of it going to work in the morning, putting dinner on the table, watering the plants Like me, you may not read many books that concentrate on magical realism, allegory and symbolism But you should read this one Not simply a retelling of Mary Shelley s Frankenstein, this book s author uses the reanimated, stitched together corpse to show the tension, danger and chaos ever present in post Saddam Hussein Iraq The author follows a few individuals as their lives intersect, thanks to the monster, who was reanimated by the ghost of a security guard killed in a suicide bombing And there are multiple suicide bombings in this story, along with a secret government department with corrupt and dangerous members, Not simply a retelling of Mary Shelley s Frankenstein, this book s author uses the reanimated, stitched together corpse to show the tension, danger and chaos ever present in post Saddam Hussein Iraq The author follows a few individuals as their lives intersect, thanks to the monster, who was reanimated by the ghost of a security guard killed in a suicide bombing And there are multiple suicide bombings in this story, along with a secret government department with corrupt and dangerous members, genuine fear for American actions, multiple groups vying for control, of the city, crumbled and destroyed infrastructure and a variety of other despair inducing circumstances The author provides a good picture of the damage and destruction caused in Iraq post American invasion As a story, I found this book a little slow and was not always sure why certain story elements were present And this book is not a retread of the classic Frankenstein, and once I got my head around that, I was able to follow the characters living their lives in the chaotic city, while the monster was on a self appointed mission to kill criminals I was a little amused by the reference to Robert De Niro s portrayal of the monster by one of the characters I cannot say I enjoyed this book, but I was able to appreciate the portrayal of the people and the city in this book Book 5 13 from a very strong Man Booker International longlist and like the other 4 I ve read a shortlist contender New listeners risked missing the pleasures of the story if they insisted on challenging it right from the start The logical objections were usually left to the end, and no one interfered with the way the story was told or with the subplots Hadi went into.Originally published in 2014, and winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the 2018 English translation by Jonath Book 5 13 from a very strong Man Booker International longlist and like the other 4 I ve read a shortlist contender New listeners risked missing the pleasures of the story if they insisted on challenging it right from the start The logical objections were usually left to the end, and no one interfered with the way the story was told or with the subplots Hadi went into.Originally published in 2014, and winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the 2018 English translation by Jonathan Wright of Ahmed Saadawi s Frankenstein in Baghdad must be a strong contender for this year s Man Booker International Prize Set in Baghdad in 2005 a place of murder and gratuitous violence , amidst the bloody insurgency in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war and the growing sectarian conflicts, the story opens with one of the many bombings that hit the city in that year But for one character, Hadi, a low life dealer in bric a brac, the scene presents a bizarre opportunity Hadi watched the scene with eagle eyes, looking for something in particular amid this binge of death and devastation Once he was sure he had seen it, he threw his cigarette to the ground and rushed to grab it before a powerful jet of water could blast it down into the sewer He wrapped it in his canvas sack, folded the sack under his arm, and left the scene.We soon discover, at least according to his bar room stories, that what he finds is an intact human nose from a dismembered victim of a bomb And this is the last piece he needs to complete Whatsitsname, a reconstructed body he has assembled from the parts of various victims, an obsession that began when a close friend of his was killed in a bomb and the mortuary could only offer him his pick from an assortment of body parts to bury A few days later, distracted by Hadi passing by, Hasib a security guard at the Novotel hotel wanders put of his security booth, and is confronted by a rubbish truck driving at high speed towards the hotel gates When Hasib saw the rubbish truck, many possible explanations flooded his mind It was just a rubbish truck The driver had made a mistake he had lost control and veered off towards the hotel gate There had been a traffic accident, and the driver had sped off and was unintentionally heading for the gate No, it was a suicide bomber Stop Stop One shot, then another He didn t mean to kill the driver He wouldn t dare kill anyone, but this was his duty He was well aware of the strict orders about protecting the hotel There were security companies and important people and maybe Americans in it.And the soul of Hasib, unable to locate its almost vaporised body, instead animates the body of Whatisname Overwhelmed by a heaviness and torpor, he lodged inside the corpse, filling it from head to toe, because probably, he realized then, it didn t have a soul, while he was a soul without a body.The resulting Frankenstein like creation starts to take revenge on behalf of the victims who comprise it against those it holds responsible for their deaths, although he is no monster as Mahmoud, a journalist discovers This was the second or third time Mahmoud had listened to the Whatsitsname s recordings He couldn t get over the shock of the story or the soft, calm voice in which it had been recounted.Saadawi cleverly allows the reader to form their own view on whether the resulting Saramagoesque story is, even within the novel s confines, simply an urban legend, perhaps a cover story for the true activities of Brigadoer Majid a rather sinister department, or if they are actually true There are laws that human beings are unaware of These laws don t operate around the clock like the physical laws by which the wind blows, the rain falls, and rocks fall down mountains, or like other laws that human beings can observe, verify, and define because they apply to things that recur There are laws that operate only under special conditions, and when something happens under these laws, people are surprised and say it s impossible, that it s a fairy tale or in the best case a miracle They don t say they re unaware of the law behind it People are deluded and never admit their ignorance Saadawi does this firstly by employing a framing device that presents the book as a report on a renegade department of the Iraqi civil forces reporting to the occupying authorities, a department which took as its task investigating the occult in their view, Iraq s strongest defence against the US invasion were its djinn, only for the Americans to deploy stronger supernatural forces of their own , and the story we are reading is claimed to be a novel discovered during their investigations With regard to the activities of the Tracking and Pursuit Department, which is partially affiliated to the civil administration of the international coalition forces in Iraq, the special committee of inquiry set up under my chairmanship, with representatives of the Iraqi security and intelligence agencies and observers from US military intelligence, has come to the following conclusions It is clear that the department had been operating outside its area of expertise, which should have been limited to such bureaucratic matters as archiving information and preserving files and documents Under the direct management of Brigadier Majid, it had employed several astrologers and fortune tellers, on high salaries financed by the Iraqi treasury, not by the US authorities.Secondly, Hadi himself is established as a well known fabricator of fantastic tales indeed even he isn t clear at times if he really created Whatitsname or simply invented the story Hadi was a liar, and everyone knew it He would need witnesses to corroborate a claim of having had fried eggs for breakfast, let alone a story about a naked corpse made up of the body parts of people killed in explosions A seed of fear had started to grow deep inside him, and he couldn t get it out of his mind Because lies can come true One striking thing in the story is how the aftermaths of even major bombs are simply tidied away If she had gone straight back to Tayaran Square, she would have found that everything was calm, just as she had left it in the morning The pavements would be clean and the cars that had caught fire would have been towed away The dead would have been taken to the forensics department and the injured to the Kindi Hospital There would be some shattered glass here and there, a pole blackened with smoke, and a hole in the asphalt, though she wouldn t have been able to make out how big it was because of her blurred vision.And life goes on The rich cast of characters are largely precoccupied with doing business and property deals the dire strait of the country offered opportunities only to the bold and adventurous the ins and ours of office politics, finding a partner for life or if not, at least for the night , enjoying food and drink in venues from local dives to luxury venues the bombings and ever present threat of a sudden violent end are in one sense simply the literally everyday background noise against which they live their lives It is the very normality with which such horrifying incidents come to be accepted that adds to the horror for the reader But that isn t to say the novel downplays the brutal reality of the bombings Even for someone who has encountered several such incidents, they still shock The smell suddenly hit his nostrils the smoke, the burning of plastic and seat cushions, the roasting of human flesh You wouldn t have smelled anything like it in your life and would never forget it.And of course the very fear of violence itself creates deaths, notably in the Al Aaimmah Bridge stampede in August 2005 caused by a false report of a suicide bomber in a massive crowd of pilgrims, which is included, in a fictionalized version, in the novel.Whatitsname s campaign gets increasingly sophisticated as he takes on higher profile targets, and he attracts followers who inevitably end up in sectarian conflicts of their own And as he revenges each victim, the corresponding body part falls off and begins the natural process of decay, leading him to need to seek body parts from new victims to replace to enable his body to stay intact so he can complete his missionMy list of people to seek revenge on grew longer as my old body parts fell off and my assistants added parts from my new victims, until one night I realized that under these circumstances I would face an open ended list of targets that would never end This spiral of never ending violence is clearly a metaphor for the situation in Iraq, as is the increasing confusion as to whether the victims from whom his parts are taken are actually themselves also villains responsible for the deaths of others Every day we re dying from the same fear of dying The groups that have given shelter and support to al Qaeda have done so because they are frightened of another group, and this other group has created and mobilized militias to protect itself from al Qaeda It has created a death machine working in the other direction because it s afraid of the Other And we re going to seeanddeath because of fear The government and the occupation forces have to eliminate fear They must put a stop to it if they really want this cycle of killing to end Others such as the Head of the Tracking and Pursuit Department have no loyalty except to power and fear is the currency in which they trade, his mission being to create an equilibrium of violence between the different factions The man would have no qualms about using brute force to serve those in power, whether Saddam Hussein, the Americans or the new government Brigadier Majid had served or would serve them all.But ultimately the book s message is that violence begats violence and fear begats fear and, as Whatitsname repeats to himself as a mantra There are no innocents who are completely innocent or criminals who are completely criminal.I kill in order to keep going.4.5 stars