Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction
A darkly humorous contemporary take on the Frankenstein story. In US-occupied Baghdad, a junk dealer's creation, assembled from the body parts of victims killed in bomb blasts, stalks the city looking for revenge.
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 humor. He has a journalist’s eye for detail and a cartoonist’s sense of satire (he’s been both). What the reader comes away remembering are not the fantastic elements in the story, but the day-to-day struggles of Baghdadis.
What follows, in this assured and hallucinatory story, is funny and horrifying in a near-perfect admixture. Funny because Saadawi wrings a good deal of black humor out of the way the monster’s pieces fall off at inopportune moments ... Saadawi’s tone can be sly, but his intentions are deadly serious. He’s written a complex allegory for the tribal cruelties in Iraq in the wake of the American invasion. His book is especially moving about women who have lost their sons and husbands, and who wonder if they are alive and will ever return ... Saadawi blends the unearthly, the horrific and the mundane to terrific effect ... You get the sense, throughout Frankenstein in Baghdad, that Saadawi’s creature, alive with malevolent intelligence, is feeding off its own destructive energy. The reader feeds off it as well. What happened in Iraq was a spiritual disaster, and this brave and ingenious novel takes that idea and uncorks all its possible meanings.
In this surreal, visceral and mordant novel ... Saadawi stitches the narrative together from so many points of view and points in time, one often overlapping the other, that the tension has a tendency to dissipate. But this is in keeping with the novel’s open preoccupation with war’s absurdity ... 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.