Book reviews / Science Fiction

Book review: Frankenstein in Baghdad

This was a really creepy, interesting and imaginative read. It’s not without its faults, but those are relatively minor in comparison the world building and interweaving of all the characters’ lives into the narrative.

So, as the title suggests, this is a retelling of Frankenstein, except set in occupied Baghdad, post American invasion. However, the pitched battles between American military forces and other parties are just background setting. Most of the story centres on one small street in Baghdad, where the characters live their normal daily lives. We are occasionally exposed to the precariousness of the situation, with reports of car bombs and glimpses of poverty.

However, what makes it surreal and amazing, is the ‘monster’ and the fantastic elements woven into the story. Such as the Tracking and Pursuit department, which employs astrologers to help predict bombings and assassinations. However, the Major who heads up the department also becomes obsessed with “One Who Has No Name” as time goes by. The monster is also known as Whatsitsname and Daniel, depending on the point of view of the storyteller. The point of view changes through out the novel, which isn’t as confusing as you’d expect. I think this is probably because the characters are all so distinct, so you can easy fall into their cadence of thinking without being confused.

The interweaving of the mundane and surreal is so expertly done, that it surprises you but also makes sense. I don’t want to give away my favourite ones, because they are just such good “WTF” moments. The first one happens very early on in the novel with one of the important characters, Elishva, a widowed Assyrian Christian, who refused to leave Baghdad, as she’s waiting for her son to return. It is a really good introduction into how fantastical the story can get.

On the downside, there are a couple of minor subplots that seemed garish but also inconsequential. For example, Mahmoud the journalist being obsessed with an older female film director. There were just a couple scenes that felt unnecessary and really felt like it undermined his character. As well, aside from Elishva, all the other main characters were men, with very few female characters of note (they were all very minor as well).

However, I really enjoyed it overall. I loved how surreal it was at times, and then pulled back to normalcy. I like the ending as well, which was equal parts cruel and kind. Definitely pick it up.

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