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.