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Frankenstein in Baghdad

Baghdad during the 2003 U.S. occupation of Iraq is a city of soldiers, shortages and car bombings. Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, translated by Jonathan Wright, is a surreal, tragicomic look at people persevering through the random cruelty of war.

Hadi, a junk dealer, collects body parts after bombings and sews them together, creating a grotesque, human-like form. When his creation becomes sentient after prayers from a grieving mother, it takes on a mission to avenge those who caused the death of any piece of its body. The creature is "not exactly a living being, but not a dead one either," and this could also be said of many people surviving in war-torn Baghdad. The ensuing carnage creates widespread anxiety.

Brigadier Majid, head of the undercover Tracking and Pursuit Department, uses his team of astrologers, mystics and clairvoyants to find the killer. Journalist Mahmoud al-Sawadi, through whose eyes much of the story is seen, investigates the inexplicable deaths while trying to manage a career within the conflict zone. Citizens dismayed about the deterioration of municipal institutions and jittery about fatal bombings now add worry about a serial killer. Possibly, says one character, "all the security incidents and the tragedies we're seeing stem from one thing--fear."

Frankenstein in Baghdad won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014, with a cast of characters so interesting that they could each have a novel of their own. This important addition to literature about the nonsensical nature of war is a compelling and lively read. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.