The winner of the international prize for Arabic fiction reimagines Mary Shelley’s classic in war-torn Iraq
“Be a positive force and you’ll survive,” a character repeatedly mutters in Ahmed Saadawi’s hallucinatory and hilarious novel. In war-torn Baghdad, where truck bombings are an unremarkable part of everyday life and where human life is a trinket to be tossed away, positive force is in short supply. It seems unsurprising in this present-day hell, then, that an opportunistic tinker and ne’er-do-well, Hadi, could seize upon myriad spare body parts covering the streets and create a patchwork human being. Saadawi suggests that, amid all the horror and spiritual degradation, there is nothing especially unlikely in the idea that this thing of shreds and patches should find reanimation from the soul of a security guard blown to shreds. Nor that the “whatsisname” should roam the streets, committing a series of murders.
Initially, the creature’s aim is to take revenge against the bomb-makers and men of violence who terrorise the ruined streets, but soon it comes to represent the meaningless, apparently never-ending cycle of violence that has come to define contemporary Iraq. Saadawi’s satirical bite comes to the fore as the novel continues, as the creation says of itself, with bitter irony: “Because 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.” Even as its poorly assembled corpse starts to decay, thanks to “serious putrefaction problems”, the implication that the body politic of the state is itself falling apart means that any jokes come garlanded with darkness. Laughter often catches in the throat.
Appropriately, the first English translation of Saadawi’s work comes two centuries after Frankenstein shocked the world
Link : Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi review – elegant satire