Frankenstein in Baghdad Q2: Characters

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"She wasn’t exactly a living being, but not a dead one either."

There are many characters in the book – some (like the old woman Elisha, Mahmoud the journalist, or Hadi the junk collector) are more central, while others (Elisha's daughters, or Mahmoud's boss Saidi) appear more offstage. Did you find the characters well drawn? Which ones stood out for you? What do the various characters have in common?

Comments

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    Together they depicted a city quite unlike any I have known, both in terms of its happier past and its more recent suffering. I thought they kind of represented facets of the city, very diverse and originally living in a kind of harmony, but no separated and splintered by all kinds of events. The ones who were more central still lived in the city and (apparently) still wanted to, but many others had left for other parts of Iraq or across the world. It felt like it had all been smashed up in a relational sense as well as the literal one of bombardment, ongoing car bombs etc

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    I don't know how representative the characters are of Baghdad. It's a large city with a long, long history of trade and exchange, so I'd expect it to have plenty of variety in its citizens. But I've never been there and my perceptions of modern Baghdad are based on European news reports which simplify massively even when they're not biased. (I sometimes watch Al Jazeera news for a change in bias.)

    The whole book is about symbolism and deeper meanings, so I wonder how many of the characters were there for "organic" reasons, to reflect Baghdad as it is, and how many were there to stand in for aspects of the city and the questions that informed the book. I suspect, and I hope, Saadawi managed to do both.

    I think Richard's point about the earlier harmony being shattered by recent events is a good one, and one of the many themes of the book. The old order had fallen apart, shown by Saidi's probable fraud and Faraj's expanding property empire.

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    One thing that I observed about the characters - apart from being really well-drawn - was that they were all somehow alone. They co-existed in this city, but they were all alone. There weren't really any couples in the book that I can recall. The nameless Astrologers were a group, I suppose. but Whatsitsname was definitely alone, despite having a posse. Even the members of his posse were alone, I thought.

    In some ways, this was a mirror of the situation above. The city had factions, but each of these factions was alone, too. They all lived together, but they didn't really come together to make a whole, I didn't feel. I thought that was quite interesting.

    Whatsitsname brings both factions and individuals together to make a whole, but the result is far from satisfactory, and falls apart if left under its own devises.

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    Good observation! There was one couple, Abu and Umm Salim, but that was it. Another symbol of the fractured society?

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    I wonder if Ahmed Saadawi is intending to make a comment about the attempted gluing together of factions. Whatitsname was glued together like that, and in some respects thinks of himself as the ideal Iraqi citizen because of that. But the glue is based entirely on violence carried out on other individuals, and the result is largely unsuccessful except as a means of getting payback. I thought the extra twist of body parts disintegrating when (so to speak) their job was done was very clever. What does that say about coalitions in general, whether in Iraq or anywhere else?

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    Thought the characters were the best part of the book. Realised while reading that this is what I miss in many of the discussions about RPGing I overhear - the characters get flattened into stereo-types, e.g. classes, races, etc., and the games are evaluated to be plotted efficiently, systematically balanced, and productive; i.e. good value; whereas when I started playing (AD&D) me and my friends wanted to be someone with a great story to tell afterwards, and that telling mixed up the play and playing. We just spent our time for that. Of course we weren't adults either.

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    The characters seemed like real people to me. I accepted them at face value and never inquired further. That's all I care about.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    Thought the characters were the best part of the book. Realised while reading that this is what I miss in many of the discussions about RPGing I overhear - the characters get flattened into stereo-types, e.g. classes, races, etc., and the games are evaluated to be plotted efficiently, systematically balanced, and productive; i.e. good value; whereas when I started playing (AD&D) me and my friends wanted to be someone with a great story to tell afterwards, and that telling mixed up the play and playing. We just spent our time for that. Of course we weren't adults either.

    That's one reason why I like playing "story games" rather than "trad" ones. The focus is more on interesting characters, and the character-defining choices they make, rather than effectiveness and "winning".

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    To be fair, some trad games like RQ and Pendragon and even CoC have always been more about character than winning. In RQ there’s a heavy emphasis on beliefs (‘what the priest said’), Pendragon has passions, and CoC trying to stay sane. But none of them have narrative mechanics, so they let characters (rather than players) drive the story, and character changes tend to be organic rather than mechanic.
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