Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi – An Arthur C. Clarke Award book review

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi is the last of the books on the Arthur C Clarke Award list to review. Like several books in this years nominations this was another difficult one to get through.

The book is set in the aftermath of the Iraq War. The Americans are still patrolling the streets along with the local Iraqi forces. Terrorist attacks are common and dictate the flow of life in the city.

Against this backdrop a number of people struggle to survive, these include the an Army Officer that runs a paranormal investigation department, a junk dealer and a mourning mother among others. These characters face a strange Frankenstein like monster called Whatsisname.

The story was translated from Arabic and its possible some of the problems I have this book come from this. The book feels like it has an identity crisis much like the ‘monster’. It flips from gritty tale of life in reconstruction Iraq to mild horror fantasy. The narrative structure feels more like the fantasy elements are tacked on but these are the bits that make the book truly a Science Fiction novel.

Much of the novel is seen through the eyes of the inhabitants of Baghdad and I found it hard to keep track of them all, in the same way we are never with each of them long enough to really care about them. Halfway through the book we get to see the monsters view. Here the book came to life as we began to understand his motivations and drives. It added the needed colour and boost to the story. Sadly this doesn’t last long and we lose that insight into the creature.

Overall the book is an interesting read but not one I would recommend.

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