Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
Rising Iraqi author Saadawi offers an incisive look at local life in Baghdad in 2005. The multiple narratives of Elshiva, an ancient madwoman; Hadi the junk dealer; Majid the brigadier; and Mahmoud the journalist intersect to form a complex whole. What binds these characters together is Whatshisname, the reanimated body that Hadi has stitched together, using body parts acquired as byproduct of multiple bombings in the city. The lost soul of a soldier animates the patchwork body, and the story takes off. When Whatshisname visits Elshiva, she believes he is her dead son Daniel. He also visits Hadi, his maker, then embarks on a killing spree to avenge all the people who comprise his parts. As a piece of his body is avenged that piece falls off, leading to a need for a replacement parts. When Hadi tells Mahmoud about this Frankenstein-like character, Mahmoud writes an explosive story for his magazine. The brigadier's paramilitary gets wind of the story and seeks to capture and kill the invulnerable monster. Verdict Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, this complex novel weaves the experiences of a diverse group of Iraqis during the chaos of internecine warfare. This Iraqi perspective is one that may surprise and challenge casual readers; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 7/31/17.]-Henry Bankhead, San Rafael P.L., CA © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Saadawi's novel begins with an intriguing question: "Have you seen a naked corpse walking down the street?" So asks Hadi, a local junk collector in Baghdad during the American invasion and dreadful, subsequent war. At least at first, his neighbors appear unconcerned because "Hadi was a liar and everyone knew it." However, in the wake of suicide bombings and other brutal acts of violence, Hadi has been collecting body parts, just has he has always collected other bits of this and that. Saving the limbs and hunks of flesh, Hadi stitches a kind of body back together, claiming, "I made it complete so it wouldn't be treated like trash, so it would be respected like other dead people and given a proper burial." Unfortunately, "Whatsitsname," as Hadi comes to call his creation, becomes sentient, his spirit revived by an old woman who has been mourning her own son for 20 years, even since he was killed during the previous American war. And the monster becomes just that, a violent, terrifying murderer who, like the war itself, takes on a life its own, beyond logic, reason, or control. While the Frankenstein through line doesn't quite hold Saadawi's novel together, the book is successful as a portrait of a neighborhood, and a way of life, under siege. When a local real estate agent named Faraj is questioned by Americans on the morning after Whatsitsname commits a particularly grisly murder, he considers the troops who have come to occupy his country. "As suddenly as the wind could shift, they could throw you in a dark hole." This is a harrowing and affecting look at the day-to-day life of war-torn Iraq. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* There is no shortage of wonderful, literate Frankenstein reimaginings try Laurie Sheck's A Monster's Notes (2009) or Dave Zeltserman's Monster (2012) but few so viscerally mine Shelley's story for its metaphoric riches: Everywhere we're dying, writes Saadawi, from the same fear of dying. Saadawi places readers in his hometown of U.S.-occupied Baghdad circa 2005, where Hadi has begun collecting body parts strewn from bombings. By stitching them together into the shape of a body, he wishes to honor and remember the dead. But the body vanishes. The monster is alive, imbued with a sort of soul by a grieving mother who believes it is her son returned from war. The monster begins killing, first as righteous revenge upon those responsible for murdering the people from whom he's stitched. But soon, he needs more body parts just to replace what is decomposing, and his morals fade into gray. Meanwhile, journalist Mahmoud al-Sawadi comes ever closer to this mass murderer known as Criminal X. In graceful, economical prose, Saadawi places us in a city of ghosts, where missing people return all the time, justice is fleeting, and even good intentions rot. I am the first true Iraqi citizen, muses the monster, who is a composite of victims as much as he is his own extremist. A haunting and startling mix of horror, mystery, and tragedy.--Kraus, Daniel Copyright 2017 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
A horrifying creature stalks the bombed-out streets of postwar Baghdad, seeking vengeance.This outrageously adroit horror metaphor deservedly won author Saadawi (Indeed He Dreams or Plays or Dies, 2008, etc.) the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction and now arrives on Western shores with a deft translation by Wright (The Longing of the Dervish, 2016, etc.). The book chronicles the unexpected exploits of Hadi, a rag-and-bone man barely tolerated in his war-torn neighborhood. We the readers are basically eavesdropping as Hadi tells his bizarre tale to local journalist Mahmoud al-Samedi. When Hadi's assistant, Nahem, dies in a car bombing, the junkman nobly goes to collect the body for burial only to find an assortment of body parts from a variety of people. "I made it complete so it wouldn't be treated as trash, so it would be respected like other dead people and given a proper burial," Hadi says in explaining the Frankenstein's monster-like creature he assembles. But this being a horror tale, the spirit of a young man named Hasib Mohamed Jaafar takes root in the creature, which Hadi takes to calling "Whatsitsname." And Whatsitsname is mad, too, killing those responsible for the deaths embodied in its parts. As it replaces rotting body parts and continues its mission, it becomes stronger, deadlier, and more articulate. "With the help of God and of heaven, I will take revenge on all the criminals," it swears. "I will finally bring about justice on earth, and there will no longer be a need to wait in agony for justice to come, in heaven or after death." As a metaphor for the cycle of violence, it's quite nuanced, but Saadawi's black sense of humor and grotesque imagery keep the novel grounded in its genre. Call it "Gothic Arabesque," but this haunting novel brazenly confronts the violence visited upon this country by those who did not call it home.A startling way to teach an old lesson: an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.