- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Oneworld Publications (28 April 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 178607060X
- ISBN-13: 978-1786070609
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #61,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Frankenstein in Baghdad Paperback – 28 Apr 2018
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'Saadawi leavens his satirical horror with dark humour, stitching his novel together with the same lurching vitality as his title character's monstrous body to vividly evoke his own dismembered country.' * Guardian Books of the Year * `[A] biting satire of Iraqi life and sectarian disputes.' * Financial Times * `Saadawi's strange, violent and wickedly funny book borrows heavily from the science fiction canon, and pays back the debt with interest: it is a remarkable achievement, and one that, regrettably, is unlikely ever to lose its urgent relevancy.' -- Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent * Guardian * `[Saadawi is] Baghdad's new literary star.' * New York Times * `Frankenstein in Baghdad is complex but very readable and darkly humorous; it has well-observed characters, whose back stories reflect the wider context. The monster is a metaphor both for the physical horrors of Iraq, and for the development of groups within that chaos. The translation by Jonathan Wright is first-rate.' * Times Literary Supplement * `Helped by Jonathan Wright's elegant and witty translation, which reaches for and attains bracing pathos, Saadawi's novel mixes a range of characters and their voices to surprising, even jolting effect...a remarkable book.' * Observer * `A darkly delightful novel... Detective story and satire as well as gothic horror, Frankenstein in Baghdad provides a tragicomic take on a society afflicted by fear, and a parable concerning responsibility and justice.' * New Statesman * `Ahmed Saadawi has wrenched a fable that puts a cherished Romantic myth to urgent new use... In their bicentenary year, Mary Shelley's scientist and his creature will take plenty of contemporary spins. Surely, no updated journey will be more necessary than Saadawi's... A nightmarish, but horridly hilarious, tale... Sinister, satirical, ferociously comic but oddly moving.' * Spectator * `Frankenstein in Baghdad is more than just a black comedy. It's as much of a crossbreed as its ghoulish hero - part thriller, part horror, part social commentary... Saadawi, slickly translated by Jonathan Wright, captures the atmosphere of war-torn Baghdad with the swiftest of penstrokes, and picks out details that make the reader feel, and even taste, the aftermath of the explosions that pepper the book.' * Financial Times * `Saadawi's novel...is more than an extended metaphor for the interminable carnage in Iraq and the precarious nature of its body politic. It also intimately depicts the lives of those affected by the conflict [and] offer[s] a glimpse into the day-to-day experiences of a society fractured by bloodshed.' * Economist * `In the 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, her monster has turned up in countless variations - but few of them have been as wild or politically pointed as the monster in Ahmed Saadawi's Frankenstein in Baghdad.' * New York Times * 'Expertly told... A significant addition to contemporary Arabic fiction.' * Judges' citation, International Prize for Arabic Fiction * `An extraordinary piece of work. With uncompromising focus, Ahmed Saadawi takes you right to the wounded heart of war's absurd and tragic wreckage. A devastating but essential read.' * Kevin Powers, bestselling author of the National Book Award finalist The Yellow Birds * `One of the best novels to emerge from the catastrophe of the Iraq War... Extraordinary... Earthy and vibrant... There are striking continuities with the original Shelley novel... Saadawi's monster in Frankenstein in Baghdad is a hybrid creature for our times. It is a desperate marker of the brutal violence that has taken countless lives in the wars unleashed in the region... But Frankenstein in Baghdad is also a sign that the imagination can still survive in these conditions, literary works flowering in the cracks of the rubble.' * Roger Luckhurst, Los Angeles Review of Books * `Matter-of-factly, Saadawi sets out a reality - Baghdad in 2005 - so gothic in its details...that, when the novel makes a turn to the supernatural, it barely shocks.' * The New Yorker * `This adroitly written literary fiction ingeniously blends absurdist horror with a mordantly funny satire about life in a war-torn city... Extraordinary in its scope and inventiveness.' * Irish Times * `A bold literary conceit and executed with some aplomb.' * Mail on Sunday * `A fantastical manifestation of war's cruelties... Saadawi blends the unearthly, the horrific and the mundane to terrific effect... There's a freshness to both his voice and vision... What happened in Iraq was a spiritual disaster, and this brave and ingenious novel takes that idea and uncorks all its possible meanings.' * New York Times Book Review * `This darkly funny fantasy...is a brilliant creature in its own right.' * Prospect * `Frankenstein in Baghdad gives an intimate, tragicomic look at the Iraq War through the lens of a small neighbourhood in U.S.-occupied Baghdad... Come for the fascinating plot; stay for the dark humour and devastating view of humanity.' * Washington Post * 'A macabre yet bleakly funny spin on the story of Frankenstein which vividly captures the atmosphere of a city at war.' * Book Riot * 'Frankenstein in Baghdad is a bold and bleak satire combining dark comedy, horror and pointed social commentary eloquently expressing Saadawi's view of his homeland.' * Herald * `Exemplary... Comedic and irreverent... A glimpse of Iraq that can't be gleaned from traditional war reporting or policy memos... Offers both an escape from the reality of present-day Iraq as well as a new way of reflecting on it... Saadawi has sutured together a dystopian universe that confronts the horrors of reality, rather than offering an escape from it and, in doing so, has provided American science fiction lovers - readers and writers alike - a new and refreshing template for dystopian fiction fitting to our time.' * Sam Metz, Los Angeles Review of Books * `Frankenstein in Baghdad is a profound, powerful and extraordinarily imaginative work. Part thriller, part horror story, part supernatural fantasy, part meditation on violence and justice, it is both harrowing and darkly comic.' * Banipal * `A devastating but essential read.' * Western Morning News * `Powerful... Saadawi and his fellow Iraqi writers depict Baghdad as a space where the absurd is not a function of Islam or the "backward" Arab mind but rather the product of the United States's imperialist encroachment.' * Mark Firmani, Los Angeles Review of Books * 'Brilliant... Crisp, moving, and mordantly humorous... Like Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five, Frankenstein in Baghdad plays the absurd normality of war for dark humour... The monster is a powerful metaphor, but the real reason the novel works is because Saadawi writes with a rare combination of generosity, cruelty, and black humour. He has a journalist's eye for detail and a cartoonist's sense of satire.' * The New Republic * `A modern-day parable that exposes the reality of living in 21st century Baghdad, a city riven by fear and blame, but in which humanity and humour somehow endure.' * New Internationalist * 'Suffused with macabre humor, this novel captures the bizarre reality of life that is contemporary Baghdad... An important piece of political literature to emerge out of Iraq.' * The Week * 'Outrageously adroit...this haunting novel brazenly confronts the violence visited upon this country by those who did not call it home. A startling way to teach an old lesson: an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.' * Kirkus * `Brilliantly conceived...feels both timely and prescient.' * Totally Dublin * 'Saadawi strikes a feverish balance between fantasy and hard realism in Frankenstein in Baghdad... Baghdad-born and still living the Iraqi capital, [he] delivers a vision of his war-mangled city that's hard to forget.' * The Seattle Times * 'Ahmed Sadaawi's darkly comic fable is a fusion of the surreal, the gothic and bleak reality... A poignant and painful portrayal of a country whose ghosts have yet to be exorcised.' * Literary Review * 'Powerful...surreal...darkly humorous... Cleverly conscripts a macabre character from a venerable literary work in the service of a modern-day cautionary fable... An excellent English translation.' * Chicago Tribune * 'Frankenstein in Baghdad is an intriguing and inventive appropriation of a classic tale which underlines the endless possibilities for novels of war.' * Bath Life Magazine * 'A harrowing and affecting look at the day-to-day life of war-torn Iraq.' * Publishers Weekly * 'Frankenstein in Baghdad is a graphic portrait of perpetual war. [It] assembles from the carnage of the ongoing crisis in Iraq a monster that, echoing Mary Shelley's creation, reflects back upon us the inhumanity of our own actions and the ways war spirals out of control, leaving devastation in its wake.' * Lit Hub * 'As with any great literary work, this novel doesn't just tell a story. Rather, it unfolds across multiple dimensions, each layer peeling back to reveal something new... Exquisitely translated by Jonathan Wright, this novel breaks through the superficial news stories and helps us see more clearly what the American invasion has wrought, how violence begets violence, and how tenuous is the line between innocence and guilt. Brilliant and horrifying, Frankenstein in Baghdad is essential reading.' * World Literature Today * 'There is no shortage of wonderful, literate Frankenstein reimaginings...but few so viscerally mine Shelley's story for its metaphoric riches... In graceful, economical prose, Saadawi places us in a city of ghosts, where missing people return all the time, justice is fleeting, and even good intentions rot... A haunting and startling mix of horror, mystery, and tragedy.' * Booklist, starred review * 'Ingenious... Hugely engaging and richly satisfying... Tells a vital story in a masterful way... One of those rare novels that manages to juggle literary ambition, political and social metaphor, and pure, page-turning readability.' * The National * 'This gripping, darkly humorous fable of post-invasion Baghdad is a profound exploration of the terrible logic of violence and vengeance.' * Phil Klay, National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment * `Harrowing subject matter and a fractured structure...make this a challenging read. But this sad, clever tale of unintended consequences and a city torn apart is well worth the effort.' * SFX * 'Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, this complex novel weaves the experiences of a diverse group of Iraqis during the chaos of internecine warfare. This Iraqi perspective is one that may surprise and challenge casual readers; highly recommended.' * Library Journal * 'A remarkable book from the heart of terror, where violence dissolves the divide between reality and unreality.' * Thomas McGuane, author of The Longest Silence * 'A painful and powerful story.' * Hassan Blasim, author of The Corpse Exhibition * `Uses Kafka-esque scenarios and magic realism to convey just how surreal and nightmarish day-to-day life for Iraqis has become.' * Michiko Kakutani, New York Times * 'A haunting allegory for sectarian violence.' * Alexandra Alter, The New York Times * 'A haunting allegory of man's savagery against man and one of the most essential books to come out of the Iraq War, or any war.' * Elliot Ackerman, National Book Award finalist for Dark at the Crossing * 'Ahmed Saadawi has divined a dark, rapturous metaphor within the landscape of post-9/11 Iraq and, channeling Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has written a love song to the humanity that endures even amid the ruins of war.' * Lea Carpenter, author of Eleven Days * 'Illuminating and arresting... Extremely funny.' * Public Books * 'Frankenstein in Baghdad is a quietly ferocious thing, a dark, imaginative dissection of the cyclical absurdity of violence. From the terrible aftermath of one of the most destructive, unnecessary wars in modern history, Ahmed Saadawi has crafted a novel that will be remembered.' * Omar El Akkad, author of American War * 'A dark and fresh examination of the violence in Iraq.' * Saleem Haddad, author of Guapa, in Metro * 'Weaving as seamlessly from parable to realism as a needle weaves a tapestry, Frankenstein in Baghdad perfectly captures the absurdity, mayhem, and tragedy of war. Mahmoud the hapless journalist, Hadi the unwitting Dr. Frankenstein, and Elishva the mother are all profoundly human and appealing, our guides to a rare glimpse of the human beings on the receiving ends of our wars. Funny, bizarre, and captivating, this is a must-read for all Americans who are curious to see the war at last from an Iraqi point of view.' * Helen Benedict, author of Wolf Season and Sand Queen * 'Horrifically funny and allegorically resonant, Frankenstein in Baghdad captures very well the mood of macabre violence that gripped Baghdad in 2005.' * Brian Van Reet, author of Spoils * 'The war novel after Iraq is alive in America, and an Iraqi perspective here gives a shot of high voltage to a reanimated discussion... Saadawi's sentences are smooth, crisp, and McCarthy-esque; translator Jonathan Wright does an incredible job of bringing the haunting, brooding rhythm of the words to life.' * Rain Taxi * 'What would happen if Frankenstein's monster appeared in modern-day war-torn Iraq? The answer proves darkly humorous but highly illuminating in this award-winning satirical novel - also a work of social commentary whose echoes will stay with you, long after you've put it down.' * World of Cruising *
About the Author
Ahmed Saadawi is an Iraqi novelist, poet, screenwriter, and documentary filmmaker. He is the first Iraqi to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction; he won in 2014 for Frankenstein in Baghdad, which also won France’s Grand Prize for Fantasy. In 2010 he was selected for Beirut39, as one of the 39 best Arab authors under the age of 39. He was born in 1973 in Baghdad, where he still lives.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Note: I only bought and read this book because it was my book club's pick for the month. Even then, I barely made it through the entire book. I was honestly tempted on several occasions to abandon it completely - it was that painful. The first 50% is akin to plodding through mud mixed with molasses. Numerous times I lost concentration and had to reread many sentences. Like I said - it was painful. It somewhat picks up the pace in the second half, but it is then that you notice how truly bad it is, as the style and plot (or lack thereof) become more noticeable.
Firstly, the writing is beyond poor. It has absolutely no soul. It is flat, simplistic, with staccato-like sentences. This "novel" reads more like an accountant's summary report than a novel. Not being able to read it in the original Arab language, I cannot say whether this is due to a (poor) translation or the author's actual lack of any writing talent. But either way, the phrasing is awkward, almost on par with a Google Translate experience. It is full of abrupt cuts and poor transitions. As an example: the protagonist enters a room in a brothel, and in the next paragraph he exits the brothel; no description, no plot development. Another example: he is riding in a car with another character (Nawal), and in the next paragraph, they are in a hotel cafeteria, with no transition or explanation how they got there.
Secondly, and more unforgivably, the plot structure itself is a mess. The story D-R-A-G-S in the beginning half, then whisks by in the final 20%, making you feel the author himself got bored with the whole mess, or else was on a tight deadline to his publisher, and just wanted, or was forced, to wind everything up asap. In fact, he was in such a hurry to wrap things up, that he forgot all about the wooden panel that was found behind the Virgin statue at Hadi's place – a plot point touched upon several times, leading one to believe it was something of significance – but I guess not.
The author has no notion of time structure: a thread of narrative rambles on into the future, then in the next paragraph/section (again without any transition) jumps back to some previous point.
Thirdly, there is zero character development. I've read books where robots had more personality than any of the characters in this book. And purely as an observation, the only women in the book continue to perpetuate the female Arab stereotypes: the stupid, rambling old woman, the whore, the conniving yet guileless businesswoman-whore. Although to be fair, the men are not much more fleshed out…
The (I assume) main character, Mahmoud al-Sawadi, would appear to be the alter-ego of the author, Ahmed Saadawi (Mahmoud being a derivation of Ahmed and Sawadi being almost an anagram of Saadawi), and as such gets the most character development. But even then, he remains a bland, unformed creature – not much different at the end of the book from what he was at the beginning.
I totally fail to see how it won any, let alone top awards. The only even remotely plausible explanation I can think of is that someone had to have a “token” Arab work in their repertoire, because there can be no other explanation.
Remember, this novel is translated and a lot is lost in translation. This should not be viewed as the fault of an author or a translator, but rather viewed with appreciation that’s English audiences have a small gateway into Iraqi and Arabic literature. For people less familiar with Iraqi names and those who struggle with numerous characters, there is a handy character list provided at the beginning of the novel with a brief description of who they are!
There are craft issues with head hopping and weird, confusing scene transitions that don't clear up until right around page 143. It's like the first half or so is a first draft and the last half or so is a tightly plotted spec fic thriller. The book has two personalities that way. I like the idea suggested in another review that the story is meant to mirror Frankenstein's haphazard construction...but that's a really romanticized way to look at bad story structure.
Anyway, the main thrust of the story is to question who is innocent and who is guilty through the lens of a Frankenstein. Who really is responsible for violence? Does anyone have clean hands? At the end there's an interesting conceptual switcheroo of who's good and who's evil.
I'm glad I read the book,it has interesting ideas, but it was a long, punishing slog. Still, the story is an important piece of speculative fiction, although it might be better to wait for the movie...which I hope there will be one. A film would allow for the opportunity to correct issues with story pacing and clarity and let it shine the way it should because it really is a gem.