Frankenstein in Baghdad Q5: Violence


“Everyone on the bus turned around to see what had happened. They watched in shock as a ball of smoke rose, dark and black, beyond the crowds from the carpark near Tayaran Square in the centre of Baghdad.”

Bombings open and close the book, and violence is a central theme. But action movie this book is not. What did you think of the role of violence in the book? Was it handled effectively?


  • 1

    I thought it was handled very well - on one level there was a huge amount of violence, but it was never graphic (even with the assembled body parts in Whatsitsname). So I never felt inclined to abandon the book because of it, nor that it was in any way glorifying those events.

    Indeed, the violence came to feel like a normal part of life within the context of the book - the constant knowing the risks of simply going down the street, the many deaths and disappearances - and that normalisation of what is objectively a terrible situation was, I think, an enormous strength of the book. For me, especially since moving away from London into a very rural area, it's hard to identify with city preoccupations, but this book helped me enter into a very different environment than the one I am familiar with. I've read other books which try to do that but most of them repel me by very crude and/or graphic presentations of violence. This didn't.

  • 1

    I agree with Richard, and I think the book succeeded because it concentrated on the people and their very human reactions to the violence and their need to continue living in the face of it. In many ways, the bombings were kept outside what they considered.

    The most violent part, the shoot-outs at the Whatsitsname's compound in Dora, were told as a story about what happened, not in-the-moment description.

    But apart from the descriptions of violence, there's the reasons for the violence. Whatsitsname says its motivation is justice, to punish those who deserve it where the victims can't. That whole idea of vigilate violence and executions is horrific. When is that violence justified? Who gets to make that decision? For instance, the death of Abu Zaidoun, the senile old barber: what purpose did that serve? Perhaps that's for a different question.

  • 1

    I suppose that's the theme of a lot of violence based stories, that violence begets violence. Eventually, you can no longer tell who started it all, and all the tit-for-tat perpetuates it. Even the story of Putin's war (if you were to try to tell it just by relying on press releases) fits this pattern - "you're making provocations" - "no, YOU are."

  • 1

    There is so much violence that it becomes part of the landscape, and unworthy of explicit description. Everyone knows what a bombing is like. You can just refer to it in passing, like a bus.

Sign In or Register to comment.