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Old 11-10-2018, 11:19 AM   #1
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Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi

'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 (IPAF) for 2014 and a Man Booker International Prize Nominee for Shortlist for 2018.


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We're trying out discussion sections as an encouragement to keep those reading on a more similar timeline and perhaps foster more discussion. These are only softly recommended however and not required at all. Anyone can discuss any part or aspect of the selection at any time.

Recommended discussion timeframe starts-

The first quarter, pages 1-72: immediately

The second quarter, pages 73-144: Saturday the 17th of November

The third quarter, pages 145-216: Saturday the 24th of November

The fourth quarter, pages 217-288: Saturday the 1st of December


This is the MR Literary Club selection for November 2018. Everyone is welcome so feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time; the more the merrier!


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Old 11-19-2018, 01:04 PM   #2
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I'm listening to the audiobook, and so far I'm enjoying it. It's really immersing me in the culture/reality of modern-day Iraq which I like and I think is one of the points of topics like this month's.
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Old 11-19-2018, 01:59 PM   #3
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I borrowed it from the library and have just started reading it.
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Old 11-20-2018, 02:06 PM   #4
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I should add, though I’m enjoying it, it is macabre! Definitely a different sort of book from others we’ve read recently.
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Old 11-20-2018, 05:15 PM   #5
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I started the ebook last night with a quick read of the short prologue Final Report but this morning I could not remember anything of what that was about ; probably because it was after midnight when I read it .

So, will get into it properly today sometime - it looks and sounds interesting.
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Old 11-21-2018, 11:31 AM   #6
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I will be late to this discussion as we had to put our 13 year old cat down this weekend. I have been having a really hard time focusing on my actual people's-lives-depend-on-it legal work, so pleasure reading is almost out of the question. I will catch back up eventually.
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Old 11-21-2018, 06:49 PM   #7
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I’m really sorry to hear about your cat. Our pets are well-loved family members so make sure you take some time for yourself too.
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Old 11-22-2018, 10:30 AM   #8
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I’m so sorry to hear that about your cat. Like Bookworm_Girl said, pets are family.
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Old 11-23-2018, 09:02 PM   #9
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Am also sorry to hear of the loss of your cat companion.

We are cat fans here, currently with three of them (we work on the "anothercat principle"), and know how attached they can become in their own little independent way.
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Old 11-25-2018, 09:17 AM   #10
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Back in the saddle as it were. I read about half the book in one sitting yesterday. Enjoying it immensely, even if I have to keep looking words and places up that are not covered by my Kobo dictionary.
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Old 11-25-2018, 06:01 PM   #11
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I am also about halfway through and enjoying it.

I like the way the author does not let irreverence get in the way of honesty in writing humor. Along that line I keep thinking of the likes of Waugh's Black Mischief and Naipaul's servant's tale as the prologue to In a Free State.
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Old 12-17-2018, 07:17 PM   #12
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I was hoping that there would be some more comment on this book before I posted again but I will briefly give some more of my own thoughts before the memory of the book gets too far into the past.

First, I enjoyed reading the book; for me one of the better novels I have read for some time. By enjoy, I don't mean that it was all fun but rather that it was interesting, well written (translated) and trod carefully.

I am not one for pontificating on what an author's messages and propaganda, if any, are; I always give space to the possibility that what may look like those things are actually just frames to write a good story in and nothing to do with the author's own beliefs. But in this book I felt there was something else going on, for example the many references to what was the Jew's house now occupied by another, the statue of Mary (that later loses its head), the bombings, corruption and the sinister natures of the Frankenstein and its motives.

At the time I felt that Saadawi trod through some risky areas using the covers of allusion instead of specifics, and black humour in order to avoid the type of situation that Rushdie found himself in. And I feel that even more so after recently reading this interview in The Arab Weekly, except that he does not seem to have escaped threats to himself and family.

Thanks to astrangerhere for nominating it, as it is a book I would likely never have otherwise got to.

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Old 12-17-2018, 07:47 PM   #13
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I just finished the book last night. I felt it tapered off a bit at the end. The best parts, to me, were when we were intimately following the monster, such as he was. I am sure there are numerous layers (beyond the war and corruption) that I wish I understood. I don't know how the Assyrian church, the Muslim community, and the other facets of the society presented coexisted before daily carboumbs and US military raids.

I too am glad to have read it though. I read a good deal of translated work, though most from the Japanese. I know enough Japanese to know what tone or phrase a translator might be conveying. I had no such foundation with a translation from Arabic. Gave me many mechanical questions of translation to ponder in addition to the substantive questions about the material.

Last edited by astrangerhere; 12-17-2018 at 07:47 PM. Reason: Typing on an iPad sucks.
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Old 12-17-2018, 09:34 PM   #14
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I just finished the book today. I'm really glad that we read a book from this region so I think we definitely achieved the monthly topic's purpose. Thank you for the link to the interview, AnotherCat. It was very helpful to add some context from the author's life to the city's historical struggles.

I like the way the book was structured, and the chapters were titled. The humor prevented the book from being too macabre, and I thought the fantastical elements fit in the story and were not too absurd. It was a colorful cast of characters, and I felt like you got a flavor of the local neighborhood. I found this article that tells more about Bataween and the development of the book.
https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/17/w...og-of-war.html
Quote:
“The most important thing that has happened to me is that I am still alive,” he said.

Yet as friends have died, or left the country, he has stayed.

“It’s an internal conflict for me,” he said, “between my need to write novels and be connected to the people, and my fear of death and desire to keep living.”
I'm going to have to think some more about the parallels between this book and the original classic. I thought it was interesting that the monster developed a cult-like following of conflicting groups compared to Shelley's monster that was isolated. Although, the monster was composed of body parts from so many different religions, tribes, and classes. Therefore his reasons for revenge were many, more calculated, and kept altering whereas Shelley's monster's revenge was more singular and emotionally driven towards his creator. Both monsters struggle with their identity and purpose in society. There's a lot about the concept of justice to be pondered. Also Hadi seemed to be more a tool of Fate in creating the monster than Victor was the true father of his creation.

I read an article that said another reimagining of a classic set in this region is Atiq Rahimi’s A Curse on Dostoevsky about Kabul based on Crime and Punishment in this example).
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