Review of Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad (2015, translated 2018)

I was so psyched to read a horror novel that took place in the Middle-East! Real middle-eastern characters written by a real middle-eastern, hell yes, authenticity straight from the mysterious and beautiful source! And I’m a huge Frankenstein-story fan as well. But high expectations got the best of me this time.

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Give credit where credit is due, you ass.

Okay, I’ll start by giving where credit’s due; aside from Shelley’s, this is the best Frankenstein origin story I’ve ever read. The reasons behind the creature’s initial cobbling are devastating and touching and brutally practical. By being an amalgamation of all sorts of people in conflict, the creature literally lives off vengeance. And, hey, since we are literally pieces of all different families, aren’t we the same thing? Oh, and hey, aren’t nations, religions, any institution ALL types of Frankenstein’s monsters? Do we all have the option to be vendictive about EVYERYTHING! YES! OH WHAT A PICKLE!

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Amalgamation of vindictive potential

The monster, disappointingly called, “Whatsitsname” ( probably cooler sounding in Arabic), gets very little air time. But when it does, good times are had. There is death, but little to no gore. The setting is, well, Baghdad, so if Whatsitsname doesn’t get you, a car bomb will- for real, those fuckers pop up out of nowhere. Despite this setup, much of the stories goes to the upward climb of an up-and-coming journalist.

 

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So this is a story about a STORY about a monster? Oh.

The characters are mostly unstable, which is great fun, but the main character, this journalist, dull as goddamned dust. There’s some very dry, offbeat comedy glimmers, but Frankenstein in Baghdad is, against all odds, very boring. One of those books you keep reading because you think it might make you more culturally informed (it does a little), not because it’s entertaining. Like so many things from there to here, something got lost in translation.  

murray


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