Let’s say I were like the journalist Mahmoud al-Sawadi in Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad. Mahmoud lucked into a period of preventive detention and had time to dive into the “many books he had bought but had never read and others he wanted to reread.”
I’d reread Frankenstein in Baghdad. I just tore through it, enchanted by Saadawi’s tone, empathy and perspective.
“Isn’t life a blend of things that are plausible and others that are hard to believe?” Saadawi asks at one point in a novel that on its face is fantastical, but that at its soul is a realistic portrayal of not just Saadawi’s wartime Baghdad but of the times in which we all live. It’s also a novel about faces and souls, and about the stories that shape our identities and the ones we tell to make sense of the world.
Frankenstein in Baghdad isn’t just universal and wise. It’s hilarious. Saadawi introduces his readers to his monster so casually I laughed out loud. I laughed again as Mahmoud, drinking with his friends from the magazine where he works, agonizes about breaking the news of his unexpected promotion to editor:
“Should he tell them now, before they got drunk? Or should it wait until their reflexes were dulled and they could take the shock more easily?”
In this novel full of storytellers, it’s not surprising that my favorite is a journalist. I’m curious about other readers’ reactions. Have you read it? With whom did you identify?