Frankenstein in Baghdad Q6: Mysticism


“But the Americans, besides their arsenal of advanced military hardware, possessed a formidable army of djinn, which was able to destroy the djinn that this magician and his assistants had mobilized."

Mysticism pervades the book, from the four beggars who strangled each other to the Tracking and Pursuit Department to the very existence of Whatsitsname himself. Did anything particularly stand out to you? Where does this leave us in a world where 'orientalism' is a concern?


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    This particular quote was something that stood out - there was an expectation set up from the start that some folk on the Iraqi side of the camp would be able to tap into mysticism and magic. But this assertion levelled the playing field - not only did the Americans have cruise missiles or whatever, they also had armies of djinn.

    Which made me wonder - did they know this? Was there a conscious deployment of djinn alongside conventional weapons, or is this talking of a kind of social weapon to crush traditional Iraqi culture and values? Should we take this as a literal description of supernatural beings, or is it a metaphorical way of describing occupation and martial law?

    I think that the author's refusal to clarify exactly what he meant was absolutely perfect - like the mysticism it describes, this authorial strategy left you as reader unsure of your moorings into the everyday world we are familiar with.

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    This wasn't a big part of the book for me. I think the references to magic and djinni served to make the magical seem mundane, just another tool. That meant that the act of animating Whatsitsname wasn't the focus of the story, and we could instead get on with understanding Whatsitsname and what it stood for.

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    You know, I didn't remark on the mystical elements that much when reading it, but afterward when I was looking for quotes, and even now as I seek passages in responding to the questions, I keep seeing it. It's everywhere in the book, but so engrained in the setting you hardly notice. Here's a great passage I didn't notice on first read, but just picked up on it now:

    "You're all fired," he told them, and waited for their expressions of disbelief. But instead they stood up and didn't say a word. "Why don't you say something?" he shouted at the senior astrologer.
    "I already knew," he replied....
    Brigadier Majid was puzzled. Of course they had consulted their cards and mirrors and prayer beads made of beans before coming to the meeting, so they knew about his decision. But he had expected them to fight back or ask for forgiveness or say they would try to help him fix the situation, not just to abandon him. He didn't have it in him to go back on his decision - they would see him as weak. The department had collapsed from within, and now he was all on his own.

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    Nobody talks about haircuts until it has to be noticed, but everyone has one.

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