Just days before the announcement of the 2015 International Prize for Arabic Fiction longlist, OneWorld and Penguin announce that they’ve bought English-language rights to the 2014 winner:
Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad will be published in both the US and the UK next autumn, by Penguin Books in the US and Oneworld in the UK. Although a contract is yet to be signed, the book will in all likelihood be translated by the Banipal-prize-winning Jonathan Wright and edited by the same Penguin team that brought out Hassan Blasim’s The Corpse Exhibition.
At the end of 2014, Publisher’s Weekly asked Hassan Blasim to name his favorite book of the year.
Blasim, who chose Frankenstein in Baghdad, said:
Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad courageously confronts the bizarre events set in motion by the violence after the American occupation of Iraq. In an enjoyable and intelligent style, Saadawi tells the story of Hadi, a peddler in a poor part of Baghdad who collects and repairs body parts from people who have been ripped apart in explosions. A spirit breathes life into the assembled parts to produce a creature that Hadi calls the Whatsitsname, while the authorities call it Criminal X. The creature exacts revenge on all those who helped kill the people to whom the body parts belonged. It’s a painful and powerful story that goes beyond the limits of reality, in an attempt to reach the essence of the cruelty of wars that disfigure the human spirit and society, as fire disfigures skin. In vain, Saadawi’s novel seeks justice in the labyrinthine chaos of violence in Iraq. His lively style is reminiscent of horror movies and detective stories, with touches of black comedy.
Juliet Mabey, publisher at Oneworld, said in a release:
Frankenstein in Baghdad is exactly the sort of translated fiction we are looking for. Using multiple narrators, this atmospheric novel offers an unusually vivid window on life in war-torn Baghdad, from the dangerous and frenetic world of politics to the seedy wheeler-dealer snapping up abandoned houses, the plight of minorities, the vulnerability of journalists, and the colourful fabric of Iraqi street life. No one writing outside Iraq could capture this complexity and richness. The fact that it is by one of the most exciting authors writing in Arabic today, one of the prestigious Beirut39, and is threaded through with dark humour, makes this an especially exciting acquisition for us.
Saadawi, who lives and works in Baghdad, will be in England in July to attend an Arab literature conference at the British Library.
With relatively few post-2003 Iraqi literary works available in translation, and the muscle of Penguin/Oneworld, Frankenstein in Baghdad will likely get significant English-language attention.
Read an excerpt: trans. the aforementioned Jonathan Wright.