When I finished reading Frankenstein in Baghdad, I actually waited six hours to think about it and try gather my thoughts together.
The novel is strange. On one hand I can easily give a superficial summary of the plot but then, due to the complexity of the metaphor I feel that I won’t giving the actual message any justice. But by focusing on the actual message, I’ll be deviating from the ‘superficial’ plot. Here goes though:
A junk dealer wants to give a proper burial to his closest friend, who has been killed by an explosion so he collects bits and pieces of other explosion victims and turns it into a corpse. The soul of a freshly killed soldier finds the corpse and it comes to life and becomes a vigilante of sorts.
Also the junk dealer’s next door neighbour has lost her son to war and thinks that the creature is a resurrected version of her son.
Then there is the journalist who wants to interview the creature and comes to realise the monster’s true intentions and is more receptive to all the problems happening in Baghdad.
To complicate matters, This monster may be a lie concocted by the junk dealer and he is the cause of all the murders as a form of revenge.
Whether or not the monster is an idea or not Saadawi has written a powerful allegory about the political situation of Baghdad. Here is a place that is destroyed by bombs, individuals are tortured by the police and when the media tries to expose the truth, it cannot happen. Although my interpretation may be incorrect, I see the creature representing Baghdad: a killing corpse or it could be a place of madness due to the bombings and other madcap actions that occur.
However what I thought was the novel’s strong point is how it captures the culture of Baghdad: the coffee shops, how people live and certain customs. Personally this is what I look for in a translated novel for I believe it should reflect the country it is based in; both positive and negative aspects.
Frankenstein in Baghdad is a deceptively simple novel. There is a lot going on and rather than a funny book, I saw it as a savage satire about the craziness of a war torn city. Then again this novel is open to many interpretations but as I said everything makes sense after reflections, the fact that the novel is readable helps a lot.
Saadawi has written a novel that works on all levels, Frankenstein in Baghdad has already gathered accolades in Saadawi’s country and a film is in production. If this novel does not get the recognition it deserves, i will be greatly disappointed for Frankenstein in Baghdad joins the ranks of political allegories such as Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue and Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. Although the book is more bizarre than the two novels mentioned it still has a hefty clout.
Frankenstein in Baghdad was kindly given to me from Oneworld Publications in exchange for an honest review.