Frankenstein In Baghdad: A Novel by Ahmed SaadawiFrankenstein In Baghdad: A Novel by Ahmed Saadawi

Frankenstein In Baghdad: A Novel

byAhmed Saadawi

Paperback | January 23, 2018

Pricing and Purchase Info

$20.31 online 
$22.00 list price save 7%
Earn 102 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Available in stores


*Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize*

“Brave and ingenious.” —The New York Times

“Gripping, darkly humorous . . . profound.” —Phil Klay, bestselling author and National Book Award winner for Redeployment

“Extraordinary . . . A devastating but essential read.” —Kevin Powers, bestselling author and National Book Award finalist for The Yellow Birds

From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi—a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café—collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realizes he’s created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive—first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path. A prizewinning novel by “Baghdad’s new literary star” (The New York Times), Frankenstein in Baghdad captures with white-knuckle horror and black humor the surreal reality of contemporary Iraq.

Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction
Winner of France’s Grand Prize for Fantasy
Ahmed Saadawi is an Iraqi novelist, poet, screenwriter, and documentary filmmaker. He is the first Iraqi to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction; he won in 2014 for Frankenstein in Baghdad, which also won France’s Grand Prize for Fantasy. In 2010 he was selected for Beirut39, as one of the 39 best Arab authors under the age o...
Title:Frankenstein In Baghdad: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 7.73 × 5.09 × 0.7 inPublished:January 23, 2018Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143128795

ISBN - 13:9780143128793

Look for similar items by category:


Read from the Book

Chapter One The Madwoman 1 The explosion took place two minutes after Elishva, the old woman known as Umm Daniel, or Daniel's mother, boarded the bus. Everyone on the bus turned around to see what had happened. They watched in shock as a ball of smoke rose, dark and black, beyond the crowds, from the car park near Tayaran Square in the center of Baghdad. Young people raced to the scene of the explosion, and cars collided into each other or into the median. The drivers were frightened and confused: they were assaulted by the sound of car horns and of people screaming and shouting. Elishva's neighbors in Lane 7 said later that she had left the Bataween district to pray in the Church of Saint Odisho, near the University of Technology, as she did every Sunday, and that's why the explosion happened-many of the locals believed that, with her spiritual powers, Elishva prevented bad things from happening when she was among them. Sitting on the bus, minding her own business, as if she were deaf or not even there, Elishva didn't hear the massive explosion about two hundred yards behind her. Her frail body was curled up by the window, and she looked out without seeing anything, thinking about the bitter taste in her mouth and the sense of gloom that she had been unable to shake off for the past few days. The bitter taste might disappear after she took Holy Communion. Hearing the voices of her daughters and their children on the phone, she would have a little respite from her melancholy, and the light would shine again in her cloudy eyes. Father Josiah would usually wait for his cell phone to ring and then tell Elishva that Matilda was on the line, or if Matilda didn't call on time, Elishva might wait another hour and then ask the priest to call Matilda. This had been repeated every Sunday for at least two years. Before that, Elishva's daughters had called irregularly on the land line at church. But then when the Americans invaded Baghdad, their missiles destroyed the telephone exchange, and the phones were cut off for many months. Death stalked the city like the plague, and Elishva's daughters felt the need to check every week that the old woman was okay. At first, after a few difficult months, they spoke on the Thuraya satellite phone that a Japanese charity had given to the young Assyrian priest at the church. When the wireless networks were introduced, Father Josiah bought a cell phone, and Elishva spoke to her daughters on that. Members of the congregation would stand in line after Mass to hear the voices of their sons and daughters dispersed around the world. Often people from the surrounding Karaj al-Amana neighborhood—Christians of other denominations and Muslims too—would come to the church to make free calls to their relatives abroad. As cell phones spread, the demand for Father Josiah's phone declined, but Elishva was content to maintain the ritual of her Sunday phone call from church. With her veined and wrinkled hand, Elishva would put the Nokia phone to her ear. Upon hearing her daughters' voices, the darkness would lift and she would feel at peace. If she had gone straight back to Tayaran Square, she would have found that everything was calm, just as she had left it in the morning. The sidewalks would be clean and the cars that had caught fire would have been towed away. The dead would have been taken to the forensics department and the injured to the Kindi Hospital. There would be some shattered glass here and there, a pole blackened with smoke, and a hole in the asphalt, though she wouldn't have been able to make out how big it was because of her blurred vision. When the Mass was over she lingered for an extra hour. She sat down in the hall adjacent to the church, and after the women had set out on tables the food they brought with them, she went ahead and ate with everyone, just to have something to do. Father Josiah made a desperate last attempt to call Matilda, but her phone was out of service. Matilda had probably lost her phone, or it had been stolen from her on the street or at some market in Melbourne, where she lived. Maybe she had forgotten to write down Father Josiah's number or had some other excuse. The priest couldn't make sense of it but kept trying to console Elishva, and when everyone started leaving, the deacon, Nader Shamouni, offered Elishva a ride home in his old Volga. This was the second week without a phone call. Elishva didn't actually need to hear her daughters' voices. Maybe it was just habit or something more important: that with her daughters she could talk about Daniel. Nobody really listened to her when she spoke about the son she had lost twenty years ago, except for her daughters and Saint George the Martyr, whose soul she often prayed for and whom she saw as her patron saint. You might add her old cat, Nabu, whose hair was falling out and who slept most of the time. Even the women at church grew distant when she began to talk about her son—because she just said the same things over and over. It was the same with the old women who were her neighbors. Some of them couldn't remember what Daniel looked like. Besides, he was just one of many who'd died over the years. Elishva was gradually losing people who had once supported her strange conviction that her son was still alive, even though he had a grave with an empty coffin in the cemetery of the Assyrian Church of the East. Elishva no longer shared with anyone her belief that Daniel was still alive. She just waited to hear the voice of Matilda or Hilda because they would put up with her, however strange this idea of hers. The two daughters knew their mother clung to the memory of her late son in order to go on living. There was no harm in humoring her. Nader Shamouni, the deacon, dropped off Elishva in Lane 7 in Bataween, just a few steps from her door. The street was quiet. The slaughter had ended several hours ago, but the destruction was still clearly visible. It might have been the neighborhood's biggest explosion. The old deacon was depressed; he didn't say a word to Elishva as he parked his car next to an electricity pole. There was blood and hair on the pole, mere inches from his nose and his thick white mustache. He felt a tremor of fear. Elishva got out of the deacon's car and waved good-bye. Walking down the street, she could hear her unhurried footsteps on the gravel. She was preparing an answer for when she opened the door and Nabu looked up as if to ask, "So? What happened?" More important, she was preparing to scold Saint George. The previous night he had promised that she would either receive some good news or her mind would be set at rest and her ordeal would come to an end. 2 Elishva's neighbor Umm Salim believed strongly, unlike many others, that Elishva had special powers and that God's hand was on her shoulder wherever she was. She could cite numerous incidents as evidence. Although sometimes she might criticize or think ill of the old woman, she quickly went back to respecting and honoring her. When Elishva came to visit and they sat with some of their neighbors in the shade in Umm Salim's old courtyard, Umm Salim spread out for her a woven mat, placed cushions to the right and left of her, and poured her tea. Sometimes she might exaggerate and say openly in Elishva's presence that if it weren't for those inhabitants who had baraka—spiritual power—the neighborhood would be doomed and swallowed up by the earth on God's orders. But this belief of Umm Salim's was really like the smoke she blew from her shisha pipe during those afternoon chats: it came out in billows, then coiled into sinuous white clouds that vanished into the air, never to travel outside the courtyard. Many thought of Elishva as just a demented old woman with amnesia, the proof being that she couldn't remember the names of men—even those she had known for half a century. Sometimes she looked at them in a daze, as though they had sprung up in the neighborhood out of nowhere. Umm Salim and some of the other kindhearted neighbors were distraught when Elishva started to tell bizarre stories about things that had happened to her—stories that no reasonable person would believe. Others scoffed, saying that Umm Salim and the other women were just sad that one of their number had crossed over to the dark and desolate shore beyond, meaning the group as a whole was headed in the same direction. 3 Two people were sure Elishva didn't have special powers or anything and was just a crazy old woman. The first was Faraj the realtor, owner of the Rasoul realty office on the main commercial street in Bataween. The second was Hadi the junk dealer, who lived in a makeshift dwelling attached to Elishva's house. Over the past few years Faraj had tried repeatedly to persuade Elishva to sell her old house, but Elishva just flatly refused, without explanation. Faraj couldn't understand why an old woman like her would want to live alone in a seven-room house with only a cat. Why, he wondered, didn't she sell it and move to a smaller house with more air and light, and use the extra money to live the rest of her life in comfort? Faraj never got a good answer. As for Hadi, her neighbor, he was a scruffy, unfriendly man in his fifties who always smelled of alcohol. He had asked Elishva to sell him the antiques that filled her house: two large wall clocks, teak tables of various sizes, carpets and furnishings, and plaster and ivory statues of the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus. There were more than twenty of these statues, spread around the house, as well as many other things that Hadi hadn't had time to inspect. Of these antiques, some of which dated back to the 1940s, Hadi had asked Elishva, "Why don't you sell them, save yourself the trouble of dusting?" his eyes popping out of his head at the sight of them all. But the old woman just walked him to the front door and sent him out into the street, closing the door behind him. That was the only time Hadi had seen the inside of her house, and the impression it left him with was of a strange museum. The two men didn't abandon their efforts, but because the junk dealer usually wasn't presentable, Elishva's neighbors were not sympathetic to him. Faraj the realtor tried several times to encourage Elishva's neighbors to win her over to his proposal; some even accused Veronica Munib, the Armenian neighbor, of taking a bribe from Faraj to persuade Elishva to move in with Umm Salim and her husband. Faraj never lost hope. Hadi, on the other hand, constantly pestered Elishva until he eventually lost interest and just threw hostile glances her way whenever she passed him on the street. Elishva not only rejected the offers from these two men, she also reserved a special hatred for them, consigning them to everlasting hell. In their faces she saw two greedy people with tainted souls, like cheap carpets with permanent ink stains. Abu Zaidoun the barber could be added to the list of people Elishva hated and cursed. Elishva had lost Daniel because of him: he was the Baathist who had taken her son by the collar and dragged him off into the unknown. But Abu Zaidoun had been out of sight for many years. Elishva no longer ran into him, and no one talked about him in front of her. Since leaving the Baath Party, he had been preoccupied with his many ailments and had no time for anything that happened in the neighborhood.

Editorial Reviews

“In the 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, her monster has turned up in countless variations—but few of them have been as wild or politically pointed as the monster in Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad.” —Gregory Cowles, The New York Times“Intense and surreal . . . Assured and hallucinatory . . . funny and horrifying in a near-perfect admixture . . . Saadawi blends the unearthly, the horrific and the mundane to terrific effect. . . . There’s a freshness to both his voice and vision. . . . What happened in Iraq was a spiritual disaster, and this brave and ingenious novel takes that idea and uncorks all its possible meanings.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times  “Brilliant . . . Crisp, moving, and mordantly humorous . . . Like Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five, Frankenstein in Baghdad plays the absurd normality of war for dark humor. . . . 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.” —Roy Scranton, The New Republic“Powerful . . . Surreal . . . Darkly humorous . . . Cleverly conscripts a macabre character from a venerable literary work in the service of a modern-day cautionary fable . . . An excellent English translation.” —Chicago Tribune“A remarkable achievement, and one that, regrettably, is unlikely ever to lose its urgent relevancy . . . Surreal, visceral and mordant . . . An acute portrait of Middle Eastern sectarianism and geopolitical ineptitude, an absurdist morality fable, and a horror fantasy . . . Strange, violent, and wickedly funny.” —Sarah Perry, The Guardian“Come for the fascinating plot; stay for the dark humor and devastating view of humanity.” —The Washington Post“Fascinating . . . Strikes a feverish balance between fantasy and hard realism . . . The fabric of the city’s neighborhoods couldn’t be more sharply etched. . . . Saadawi . . . delivers a vision of his war-mangled city that’s hard to forget.” —The Seattle Times“The [Frankenstein] conceit proves surprisingly apt. . . . Saadawi’s novel . . . is more than an extended metaphor for the interminable carnage in Iraq and the precarious nature of its body politic. It also intimately depicts the lives of those affected by the conflict [and] offer[s] a glimpse into the day-to-day experiences of a society fractured by bloodshed.” —The Economist“What do you get if you cross the spiritualism of Lincoln in the Bardo with the sci-fi-cum-action-movie oomph of The Terminator? Possibly something resembling Frankenstein in Baghdad. . . . It’s as much of a crossbreed as its ghoulish hero—part thriller, part horror, part social commentary. . . . Saadawi . . . captures the atmosphere of war-torn Baghdad with the swiftest of penstrokes, and picks out details that make the reader feel, and even taste, the aftermath of the explosions that pepper the book.” —Financial Times“Hallucinatory and hilarious . . . Surprising, even jolting . . . Saadawi’s satirical bite . . . means that any jokes come garlanded with darkness. Laughter often catches in the throat. . . . Jonathan Wright’s elegant and witty translation . . . reaches for and attains bracing pathos. . . . This remarkable book [is] funny and disturbing in equal measure.” —The Observer (London)“Sinister, satirical, ferociously comic but oddly moving . . . Nightmarish, but horridly hilarious . . . A fable that puts a cherished Romantic myth to urgent new use . . . In their bicentenary year, Mary Shelley’s scientist and his creature will take plenty of contemporary spins. Surely, no updated journey will be more necessary than Saadawi’s. . . . Frankenstein’s monster is more frightening than ever.” —The Spectator (London)“Darkly delightful . . . A lively portrait of a teeming, cosmopolitan Baghdad . . . The humor is sometimes laugh-out-loud. . . . Jonathan Wright’s superb translation conveys the novel’s contemporary, urban edge as well as its light and witty style. . . . [The] novel moves as much as it entertains.” —New Statesman “Ingenious . . . Hugely engaging and richly satisfying . . . Tells a vital story in a masterful way . . . One of those rare novels that manages to juggle literary ambition, political and social metaphor, and pure page-turning readability.” —The National“Powerful . . . Saadawi and his fellow Iraqi writers depict Baghdad as a space where the absurd is not a function of Islam or the ‘backward’ Arab mind but rather the product of the United States’s imperialist encroachment.” —Los Angeles Review of Books“Illuminating and arresting . . . Extremely funny.” —Public Books“A surreal, funny and horrifying look at people trying to deal with the absurdities of war.” —The Virginian-Pilot“Very readable and darkly humorous; it has well-observed characters . . . The translation by Jonathan Wright is first rate.” —The Times Literary Supplement “This adroitly written work of literary fiction ingeniously blends absurdist horror with a mordantly funny satire about life in a war-torn city. . . . Seamlessly moves between the surreal and the intensely real. Extraordinary in its scope and inventiveness.” —The Irish Times“A haunting allegory of man’s savagery against man and one of the most essential books to come out of the Iraq War, or any war.” —Elliot Ackerman, National Book Award finalist for Dark at the Crossing“Frankenstein in Baghdad is a quietly ferocious thing, a dark, imaginative dissection of the cyclical absurdity of violence. From the terrible aftermath of one of the most destructive, unnecessary wars in modern history, Ahmed Saadawi has crafted a novel that will be remembered.” —Omar El Akkad, author of American War“This gripping, darkly humorous fable of post-invasion Baghdad is a profound exploration of the terrible logic of violence and vengeance.” —Phil Klay, bestselling author and National Book Award winner for Redeployment“An extraordinary piece of work. With uncompromising focus, Ahmed Saadawi takes you right to the wounded heart of war’s absurd and tragic wreckage. It is a devastating but essential read, one that I am sure I will return to again and again.” —Kevin Powers, bestselling author and National Book Award finalist for The Yellow Birds“Frankenstein in Baghdad courageously confronts the bizarre events set in motion by the violence after the American occupation of Iraq. . . . It’s a painful and powerful story that goes beyond the limits of reality, in an attempt to reach the essence of the cruelty of war. . . . [Saadawi’s] lively style is reminiscent of horror movies and detective stories, with touches of black comedy.” —Hassan Blasim, author of The Corpse Exhibition“Horrifically funny and allegorically resonant, Frankenstein in Baghdad captures very well the mood of macabre violence that gripped Baghdad in 2005.” —Brian Van Reet, author of Spoils“Weaving as seamlessly from parable to realism as a needle weaves a tapestry, Frankenstein in Baghdad perfectly captures the absurdity, mayhem, and tragedy of war. Mahmoud the hapless journalist, Hadi the unwitting Dr. Frankenstein, and Elishva the mother are all profoundly human and appealing, our guides to a rare glimpse of the human beings on the receiving ends of our wars. Funny, bizarre, and captivating, this is a must-read for all Americans who are curious to see the war at last from an Iraqi point of view.” —Helen Benedict, author of Wolf Season and Sand Queen“Ahmed Saadawi has divined a dark, rapturous metaphor within the landscape of post-9/11 Iraq and, channeling Gabriel García Márquez, has written a love song to the humanity that endures even amid the ruins of war.” —Lea Carpenter, author of Eleven Days“A remarkable book from the heart of terror, where violence dissolves the divide between reality and unreality.” —Thomas McGuane, author of Crow Fair and Cloudbursts“A haunting allegory for sectarian violence.” —Alexandra Alter, The New York Times   “Matter-of-factly, Saadawi sets out a reality—Baghdad in 2005—so gothic in its details . . . that, when the novel makes a turn to the supernatural, it barely shocks.” —The New Yorker  “Expertly told . . . A significant addition to contemporary Arabic fiction.” —Judges’ citation, International Prize for Arabic Fiction“This haunting novel brazenly confronts the violence visited upon [Iraq] by those who did not call it home. A startling way to teach an old lesson: an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” —Kirkus Reviews“A harrowing and affecting look at the day-to-day life of war-torn Iraq.” —Publishers Weekly“Highly recommended . . . An incisive look at local life in Baghdad in 2005. The multiple narratives . . . intersect to form a complex whole.” —Library Journal“Captures the chaos, absurdity, and inhumanity of the recent Iraq War, leaving readers, like the characters, stunned.” —Lit Hub“There is no shortage of wonderful, literate Frankenstein reimaginings . . . but few so viscerally mine Shelley’s story for its metaphoric riches. . . . In graceful, economical prose, Saadawi places us in a city of ghosts, where missing people return all the time, justice is fleeting, and even good intentions rot. . . . A haunting and startling mix of horror, mystery, and tragedy.” —Booklist, starred review“As with any great literary work, this novel doesn’t just tell a story. Rather, it unfolds across multiple dimensions, each layer peeling back to reveal something new. . . . Exquisitely translated by Jonathan Wright, this novel breaks through the superficial news stories and helps us see more clearly what the American invasion has wrought, how violence begets violence, and how tenuous is the line between innocence and guilt. Brilliant and horrifying, Frankenstein in Baghdad is essential reading.” —World Literature Today“A poignant and painful portrayal of a country whose ghosts have yet to be exorcised.” —Literary Review