Ahmed Saadawi Wins International Prize for Arabic Fiction for ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’

On Tuesday night, International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) judging chair Saad Albazei announced that Iraqi author Ahmed Saadawi had won the 2014 award for his novel Frankenstein in Baghdad.

10171222_672319926149299_6056190903340862466_n“I would like to say that this prize provides very important momentum for the Arabic novel and the Iraqi novel,” Saadawi said upon receiving the award.

Frankenstein in Baghdad was chosen from a shortlist of six by this year’s judging panel, which was chaired by Saudi academic Saad Albazei. The other novels in contention were Khaled Khalifa’s No Knives in the Kitchens of This City, Youssef Fadel’s A Rare Blue Bird That Flies with Me, Abdelrahim Lahbibi’s The Journeys of ‘Abdi, Inaam Kachachi’s Tashari, and Ahmed Mourad’s The Blue Elephant.

Saadawi’s novel tells the story of Hadi Al-Attag, “a rag-and-bone man” who haunts the streets of war-torn Baghdad of 2005, searching for fresh human body parts to stitch together a human corpse. Once completed, the patchwork “what’s-its-name” embarks on a journey of revenge on behalf of those whose organs constitute its body.

The young Iraqi novelist previously drew IPAF judges’ attention with his 2008 novel Indeed He Dreams or Plays or Dies, which lead to his invitation to the 2012 IPAF nadwa, or writing workshop. There, he worked on Frankenstein in Baghdad. 

Saadawi is the first Iraqi to win the IPAF, which is now in its seventh year. Despite ongoing political and economic turmoil, the prize continues to grow, and this year saw a marked uptick in submissions. To make their initial shortlist of 16, judges read through a record 156 novels.

In a short film about his book, aired before the announcement, Saadawi spoke about the conception of his “strange creature,” which came into being during the winter of 2005, “at the beginning of a period of increased violence in Baghdad.”

His Frankenstein, or “‘what’s-its-name’ cannot recognize or distinguish between victim or criminal,” Saadawi said. “His noble, idealized quest enters the realm of uncertainty. He is uncertain of the motivations that fuel his quest.”

Saadawi, who was born in Baghdad in 1973, was won a number of awards, including a place among the “Beirut39,” a 2010 list of top 39 Arab novelists under 40.

He has published a volume of poetry, Anniversary of Bad Songs (2000), and two previous novels: The Beautiful Country, in 2004, and Indeed He Dreams or Plays or Dies (2008).

The IPAF award will bring Saadawi $50,000. The shortlisted novelists will be given $10,000 each.

Al-Mustafa Najjar reviews the book: A Golden Piece of Shit: On Morality and War

Al-Mustafa Najjar interviews Saadawi: ‘The Novel Implicitly Questions This Concept of Salvation’