“Frankenstein in Baghdad” (Post 2/2)

Frankenstein in Baghdad b

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1

Buy the Book.

[25] Reference:

According to the astrologers, these ghosts were called tawabie al-khouf, the “familiars of fear.”


Searching this term refers back to Frankenstein in Baghdad. Trying to run it through a translator gives me: Toby fear.


He believed that emotions changed memories, that when you lost the emotion associated with a particular event, you lost an important part of the event.



“The people on the bridge died because they were frightened of dying.”



He had summoned the men only to give himself the satisfaction of feeling he was in control of the operation, and the conversation between them was devoid of content.



The Whatsitsname was discovering new things every day, he told Hadi. He had found out, for example, that each piece of dead flesh that made up his body fell off if he didn’t avenge the person it came from within a certain amount of time. But if he did avenge someone, then that person’s piece would fall off anyway, as if it was no longer needed.


[30] Reference:

“The young madman thinks I’m the model citizen that the Iraqi state has failed to produce, at least since the days of King Faisal I.”


Faisal I of Iraq (1885-1933) was King of the Arab Kingdom of Syria or Greater Syria in 1920, and was King of Iraq from August 1921 to 1933. Faisal fostered unity between Sunni and Shiite Muslims to encourage common loyalty and promote pan-Arabism in the goal of creating an Arab state that would include Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Fertile Crescent.

[31] Reference:

The CD player was playing “The Orange,” and the song summoned conflicting emotions in Mahmoud, who was growing more anxious and frightened.


The title “The Orange” is generic enough to be difficult to search. There is a song called “El Portakala” credited to Iraqi musician Alaa Saad (1967-2012). Could this be it?

[32] References:

“It’s not a tea,” said Brigadier Majid. “It’s an herbal mixture, with oxtongue leaves, sparrows’ tongue leaves, pigs’ tongue leaves, and several other tongue leaves.”


From tannazie.blogspot.com’s July 12, 2006 post “The Cow Tongue Flower Chronicles”:

Saeed’s magical wonder-cure was a tea made from this plant whose name in Persian translates directly to ‘cow tongue flower’ (…) When I was a kid, my mom made this weird concoction a few times, and it stank up the house in a way I can recall to this day.

The rest of the post is an interesting story about trying to cure canker sores with family wisdom, if you’re interested.

From Sevencups.com:

Que She (Sparrow’s Tongue)

Named for its delicate and narrow shape, Sparrow’s Tongue has a rich and unique aroma with a smooth flavor and an enduring aftertaste that is distinctive from any other.

I can’t find any reference for a pigs’ tongue leaf. This whole concoction is sort of a joke (an attempt to “loosen Mahmoud’s tongue”), so I don’t expect it to be a real recipe.


“I was lucky when I was a smoker,” said the brigadier with a smoky sigh. “Everything turned bad when I gave up smoking. Now I take a few puffs every so often, just to get my luck back.”



Mahmoud now recalled all these details with great reluctance, because they weakened his self-confidence and reminded him that he had done stupid things.


[35] Reference:

“See” was a woman who gave Saidi the title of haji.


A Muslim who has been to Mecca as a pilgrim.


“Anyone who puts on a crown, even if only as an experiment, will end up looking for a kingdom.”


[37] Reference/Translate:

Inshallah,” replied Abu Anmar.


If Allah wills it / God willing

[38] References:

One of the assistants (…) found a set of plates in a cardboard box – with pictures of King Ghazi and King Faisal II, and of Abd al-Karim Qasim, Baghdad Central Station, and other historical sites and nature scenes.


Ghazi bin Faisal (1912-1939) was the King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq from 1933 to 1939 having been briefly Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Syria in 1920. He was born in Mecca, the only son of Faisal I (see note [30]), the first King of Iraq. He died in an accident involving a sports car that he was driving. Faisal, Ghazi’s only son, succeeded him as King Faisal II. Because Faisal was underage, Prince Adbul Ilah served as regent until 1953.

Faisal II (1935-1958) was the last King of Iraq. He reigned from 1939 until July 1958, when he was executed during the 14 July Revolution together with numerous members of his family. This regicide marked the end of the thirty-seven-year-old Hashemite monarchy in Iraq, which then became a republic. King Faisal II was the model used by Belgian comic writer Herge for his character Prince Abdullah of Khemed in The Adventures of Tintin. Faisal II was the author of How to Defend Yourself (1951), an Arabic book on judo and self-defense.

Abd Al-Karim Qasim (1914-1963) was a nationalist Iraqi Army brigadier who seized power in the 14 July Revolution, wherein the Iraqi monarchy was eliminated. He ruled the country as 24th Prime Minister until his downfall and death during the 1963 Ramadan Revolution. During his rule, Qasim was popularly known as al-za’im, or, “The Leader.” He attempted to bring about greater equality for women in Iraq. Polygamy was outlawed and minimum ages for marriage were also set, with 18 being the minimum age (except for special dispensation when it could be lowered by the court to 16). A provision gave women equal rights in matter of inheritance. The laws encountered much opposition and did not survive Qasim’s government.

Baghdad Central Station is the main train station in Baghdad. It links the rail network to the south and the north of Iraq. The station was built by the British. Construction started in 1948 and finished in 1953. The station is the biggest one in Iraq. After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, thieves snatched the station’s furniture, lighting fixtures and even bathroom plumbing. A $5.9 million renovation began in 2004 and was completed in 2006.

[39] Reference:

“That statue of the Virgin is haram,” he said. “Do you understand? We want you to smash it right now.”


Haraam (or haram) is an Arabic term meaning forbidden. In Islamic jurisprudence, haram is used to refer to any act that is forbidden by Allah, and is one of five Islamic commandments that define the morality of human action. If something is considered haram, it remains prohibited no matter how good the intention is or how honorable the purpose is.

[40] Reference:

She should have gone to the service to commemorate Saint Shamouni and her seven children on their feast day.


The woman with seven sons was a Jewish martyr described in 2 Maccabees 7 and other sources. Although unnamed in 2 Maccabees, she is known variously as Hannah, Miriam, and Solomonia. In the Armenian Apostolic Church she is called Shamuna.

The story in 2 Maccabees tells of a mother and her seven sons who are arrested and refuse to eat pork (other stories have them refusing to worship an idol). The sons are tortured and killed one by one while the mother bravely watches, her trust in the Lord.

The Orthodox Church celebrates the martyrs on August 1.


They treated him with great decency and compassion and also tried to find out what had happened, but when they pressed him with questions, Hadi started to swear: he wasn’t prepared to go through two interrogations in one evening.


[42] References:

He would (…) go to the Sabunji hammam in Sheikh Omar.


A hammam is a Turkish bath (I know I’ve looked this up before…), but I can’t find a Sabunji hammam. A man named John Louis Sabunji (1838-1931) published a weekly journal titled al-Nahlah. Is this related?

Taylor & Francis Online has an article by L. Zolondek titled “Sabunji in England 1876-91: his role in Arabic journalism”


The Whatsitsname was now at a loss for what to do. He knew his mission was essentially to kill, to kill new people every day, but he no longer had a clear idea who should be killed or why.



Everything remains half completed, exactly like now: she wasn’t exactly a living being, but not a dead one either.



From the way she looked, he thought, she might now last another year, and he would never see her again. For her part, Elishva didn’t think she would see the deacon with the Turkish mustache ever again either, but both of them were wrong.


[46] Reference:

But the sand was from a special place in the Empty Quarter of Arabia.


The Rub’ al Khal desert (“the Empty Quarter”) is the largest contiguous sand desert in the world, encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. The desert covers some 250,000 square miles including parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. It is part of the larger Arabian Desert.


The junior astrologer now felt he was superior to his superior.



“Have you ever seen a golden piece of shit?” he asked. “Do you think it would be beautiful or just another piece of shit?”


[49] Reference/Translate:

She laughed and said that the name Nawal was old-fashioned, older than the traditional greeting Assalam aleekum.


Arabic: I salute you

As-salamu ‘alaykum is a greeting in Arabic that means “Peace be upon you.” The greeting is a religious salutation among Muslims when greeting. The typical response to the greeting is wa ‘alaykumu s-salam “And peace be upon you too.”

[50] Reference:

She gathered everything in a thick plastic bag with an ad for Gitanes cigarettes on it.


Gitanes (“Gypsy women”) is a French brand of cigarettes, currently owned and manufactured by Imperial Tobacco following their acquisition of Altadis in January 2008, having been owned by SEITA before that.

[51] Reference:

The Conditions for Democracy in Rentier States.


In political science and international relations theory, a rentier state is a state which derives all or a substantial portion of its national revenues from the rent of indigenous resources to external clients. The term rentier state has been used since the 20th century. It is most frequently applied to states rich in highly valued natural resources such as petroleum but can also include states rich in financial instruments such as a reserve currency. It can also be applied to nations which trade on their strategic resources, such as an important military base.

[52] Reference:

It was the twenty-ninth anniversary of the installation of His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV as patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East.


Mar Dinkha IV, born Dinka Khanania (1935-2015), was the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East. He was born in the village of Darbandokeh (Derbendoki), Iraq and led the Church in exile in Chicago for most of his life. He was elected Catholicos Patriarch in 1976.


“Try to be careful.”

“The people who die every day are usually careful,” said Mahmoud.


[54] Reference:

Some claimed it was part of the wall of Abbasid Baghdad and was the most important discovery in Islamic archaeology in Baghdad for many decades.


The history of Baghdad begins when city of Baghdad was founded in the mid 8th century as the Abbasid capital, following the Abbasid victory over the Umayyad Caliphate.

The Abbasid Caliphate was the third of the Islamic caliphates to succeed the Islamic prophet Muhammad. It was founded by a dynasty descended from Muhammad’s uncle, Abbas ibn Abdul-Muttalib (566-653 CE), from whom the dynasty takes its name.

[55] Reference:

Fear of the Whatsitsname continued to spread. In Sadr City they spoke of him as a Wahhabi.


Wahhabism is an Islamic doctrine and religious salafi movement founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. It has been variously described as “ultraconservative”, “austere”, “fundamentalist”, or “pureitan(ical)”. The term Wahhabi(ism) is often used polemically and adherents commonly reject its use, preferring to be called Salafi or muwahhid.

[56] Reference:

There was an email offering Mahmoud a position as Maysan correspondent for a major Baghdad newspaper.


Maysan Governorate is a governorate in southeastern Iraq, bordering Iran. Its administrative center is the city of Amarah. Prior to 1976 it was known as Amara Province.


Be sure to remember the senior astrologer’s prediction, or try to forget it. It makes no difference, because what is inevitable will come true one day.


Frankenstein in Baghdad has bright, smart sections but is ultimately a bit unfocused. The narrative lays foundations that it never makes good on, but I enjoyed my time and will definitely read whatever Saadawi writes next.

I love learning about different countries through weird and speculative fiction (The Third Hotel taught me more about Cuba than any class) and I appreciated seeing Baghdad post-American invasion from an Iraqi’s point of view.

Recommended for fans of the original Frankenstein and people who enjoy fiction with a touch of magic that is still firmly centered on Earth.

This Friday, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s short-story collection debut Friday Black.


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