The Nightmare of History: Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad

Reviewed by Alci Rengifo

The spirit of an age is best captured in the artistic visions inspired by the times. This rings true in both the visual and literary arts. The Middle East has been the center of the world situation for so long that in the West we cannot think of the region without evoking words such as “crisis” and “war.” Since 2001 the region has experienced the crucible of foreign occupation, the eruption of revolutions and civil wars. But from the fire is emerging a new generation of authors grappling with the collapse and reshaping of their region via some of the most impressive literature being produced in the world today. A renaissance in Middle East fiction is upon us, and like the Latin Boom of the 1960s, it is literature magical in its creativity and haunting in its statements. Just published for the first time in English is one of this movement’s great achievements, Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Ahmed Saadawi.

Saadawi’s gritty, bloody tale is both fantasy and a visceral political document. Set in Iraq in 2005, it is horror utilized as metaphor for the nightmare of a society tearing itself apart amid a crushing invasion by the world hegemon. Its characters are far from romanticized, or even heroic, they are instead written like very real individuals enduring a Dantenean reality. The monster of this tale, called the Whatitsname, is not simply a creation formed from different body parts. It is instead a walking, terrible symbol for a country, a region and an era we are still living through. In terms of literary power, Saadawi has created a specter as striking as Goya’s painting, Saturn Devouring His Son.

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Saturn Devouring His Son

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