Frankenstein in Baghdad

Doing some research on the first Gulf war, I came across a brief article from 1990  in the Los Angeles Times with the title “Iraq Turns Into ‘Frankenstein Monster,’ Iranians Say”:

“Likening Iraq to Frankenstein’s monster turning on its creators, Iran’s media Monday stepped up its attack on Baghdad for invading Kuwait.”

And then there was this, from 2006:

Iraq used to be “a country which has fought revolutionary Iran for eight years to a bloody stand still.” Now, it’s a “Shia dominated ally of Iran.” Matthews concluded: “Our brave soldiers have fought, died and been dismembered in Iraq only to connect the disparate pieces of Shia radicalism into a frankenstein monster that has come to life right there on our TV screens.”


Ahmed Saadawi’s novel, Frankenstein in Baghdad, longlisted for IPAF 2014, turns this outsiders’ perspective inside out.

Hadi al-Attag lives in the populous al-Bataween district of Baghdad. In the Spring of 2005, he takes the body parts of those killed in explosions and sews them together to create a new body. When a displaced soul enters the body, a new being comes to life. Hadi call it ‘the-what’s-its-name’; the authorities name it ‘Criminal X’ and others refer to it as ‘Frankenstein’. Frankenstein begins a campaign of revenge against those who killed it, or killed the parts constituting its body.

Saadawi describes the inspirtation for the novel as being the violence of daily life in Iraq, as a re-membering of a devasted nation:

the immediate source for it came from the violence of real life in Iraq and the spread of frightening apocryphal stories about terrorist operations and also the terror of scenes of bloody violence and the body parts of victims being cut off and scattered around the alleyways and streets to inspire fear across as wide an area as possible. The latter has become common in several districts and towns. At the time, perhaps because of general feelings of pain and frustration, I thought: “what if something opposite to this took place, whereby body parts of victims are gathered up and put together again? What if this thing, impossible in reality, happened in the novel?”



This passage is from an interview with Saadawi, published today. Here is an earlier interview, in which the author speaks about the difficulties of coming to terms with the “monstrous events” of the last decade:

The story is narrated by a zabal, a man who earns his profits through selling other people’s trash, but he is no ordinary zabal – he is also ‘death’s garbage picker’ who sews together the collected body parts from scattered corpses, which he finds from daily scenes of bombings, into one, semi-complete corpse.

The problem here is that I cannot escape “Iraq”. I mean, this is the place that I know, and it is the one place that primarily matters to me more than any other. I want to create a vision that is honestly constructed about what is going on. I believe that many of us in Iraq – artists, intellectuals, and average people – are still unable to comprehend the dramatic and monstrous events that took place since April 2003, and until this day.


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