Book Review #34: Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (2018)

Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Frankenstein in Baghdad: A Novel
Author: Ahmed Saadawi (Translated to English by Jonathan Wright)
Published: 2018 (English, Penguin Books, New York), 2013 (Arabic, al Kamel)
Pages: 281 (Paperback)
Genres: Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Contemporary, Arabic Fiction
CW: Violence, War, Magic, Death, Gore, Sexual Content
Link Here

My borrowed copy of Frankenstein in Baghdad sitting next to a plastic pumpkin and leaf

Happy Halloween, fellow readers and bloggers 🎃 This is the day we have been waiting all month for, and I hope everyone has a safe and fun day! Eat some candy, dress up in costumes, have small or socially distanced gatherings to celebrate all things spooky, or do whatever you want. I’ll be watching scary movies, and sitting by a fire on a chilly night. That being said, today I have a tactfully spooky book to talk about: Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi.

‘Yet I ask you not to spare me: listen to me; and then, if you can, and if you will, destroy the work of your hands’ —Mary Shelley, Frankenstein” – Ahmed Saadawi, Frankenstein in Baghdad

This quite extraordinary book was written by notable author, Ahmed Saadawi, who was the first Iraqi to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction where he won for this novel in 2014. He also won France’s Grand Prize for Fantasy. He is a novelist, poet, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker. Quite an extraordinary author for an extraordinary book. But I have to be honest, I was confused at some points in this novel where I really had to pay attention to the character list at the beginning and connect events and developments to different points in the novel. You definitely need to follow the events and characters closely. I found the English translation easy to read and follow, but like any internationally translated novel, there may have been meanings not carried over into the English translation.

We try to avoid meeting one another, although we are moving around in search of one another” – Ahmed Saadawi, Frankenstein in Baghdad

Taking place in US-occupied Baghdad, this novel focuses on a contrast of characters in relation to a monster referred to as many things including The Whatsitsname, created by a junk collector named Hadi. Hadi stitches together a single corpse from human body parts left over from acts of violence and bombings as a statement in order for the government “to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial” (p. 27). What Hadi did not expect was the corpse coming to life, and leaving his home to carry out a mysterious mission of murderous revenge, and soon the monster begins committing plain-old-murder towards those left in his path. This monster needs human flesh to survive, physically and spiritually, and is more intelligent and sensitive than he appears. To me, Saadawi derives the monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein‘s Monster, who was created out of grief and goes on a rampage. Which is much like The Whatsitsname who was also created out of the citizens of Iraq’s grief, and is animated by a vengeful but noble ghost of a security guard who carries out his revenge and executes the criminals he sees fit.

If you can foresee what’s going to happen, then that’s a gift from God, and He’s telling you that you can change fate for the better” – Ahmed Saadawi, Frankenstein in Baghdad

There is a large cast of characters that can be tricky to follow along, like I stated previously, but this political allegory was complexly and wonderfully executed. The parallels between this book and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were clear, but this time the backstory is war-torn Baghdad switching between the characters’ viewpoints of the events, who are journalists, Syriac Christians, business owners and other ordinary Iraqi citizens. Overall this book is kind of wild, and I’m still not 100% clear of what I just read. This book is scary in a war realism and science fiction standpoint, but nothing extremely frightening. Unless you do not like gore and murder, then it’s pretty frightening.

Following the monster’s psychology and how other characters viewed the monster was very interesting, and my favorite part of this novel. Some of the events and attitudes definitely left me guessing how this novel was going to play out. Honestly, I wish I had more intelligent things to say about this novel and go on about my ideas of what I thought events/ideas meant, but I don’t know where to begin. There was so much going on besides the monster at times like magic, family, prophecy, violence, government bureaucracy, ambitions in journalism, love and longing, and more.

Anyways, why should you read this novel? Read if you like science fiction, horror or contemporary novels focusing on gruesome monsters hellbent on murderous intentions who try to prevent more death and destruction in a warn torn country. Unless you can’t stand the complexity or hate science fiction or gore, you won’t be disappointed.

I give this a 4 out of 5!


I read a lot of this book listening to a Spooky Spotify playlist I absolutely loved that I wanted to share with you all! I’m sorry (but also not) if this music is not your thing.

How the heck do I rate the books I read? Click here

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