Ahmed Saadawi’s ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’ Makes Man Booker International’s 2018 Shortlist

On Thursday evening, the Man Booker International (MBI) revealed their 2018 shortlist, celebrating “the finest works of translated fiction from around the world” translated to English:

Among the six books chosen for the shortlist was Ahmed Saadawi’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction-winning Frankenstein in Baghdad, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright and published this January.

The original Arabic, which came out in 2013, won the 2014 IPAF.

At the end of 2014, Publisher’s Weekly asked acclaimed Iraqi writer 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.

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).

Saadawi also has a compelling collection of forthcoming short stories — running the gamut from dark absurdism to science fiction — as well as one in the collection Baghdad Noir, ed. Samuel Shimon.

The MBI’s 2018 shortlist includes three former MBI laureates: Han Kang and Deborah Smith, who co-won the 2016 MBI with The Vegetarian, and László Krasznahorkai for  The World Goes On, tr. John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet, and George Szirtes. Krasznahorkai won the prize in its former iteration in 2015, when it was awarded to an author’s body of work.

This year’s judging panel was chaired by author Lisa Appignanesi. The other judges were poet-translator Michael Hofmann, author Hari Kunzru, literary critic Tim Martin, and novelist Helen Oyeyemi.

The winner of the 2018 prize is set to be announced May 22 in London. Each year, the winning team’s £50,000 prize is divided equally between author and translator(s).

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