Dark tale of Iraqi Frankenstein wins Arabic literary award

Ahmed Saadawi was declared the winner of the prestigious award for his dramatic novel, Frankenstein in Baghdad.

ABU DHABI// A macabre tale set in war-torn Iraq has won the seventh edition of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

Ahmed Saadawi was declared the winner of the prestigious award for his dramatic novel, Frankenstein in Baghdad, during a gala ceremony at the Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi hotel.

The Iraqi novelist’s prize includes US$50,000 (Dh183,650) and a guaranteed English translation of his award-winning work.

“I am extremely happy and proud,” he told the packed audience, which included the five other nominees. “I really feel that all the nominees are also winners and it is competitions such as these that help the Arab and Iraqi novel gain even more momentum both regionally and internationally.”

Frankenstein in Baghdad centres on a creature created from the body parts of civilians killed during Iraq’s long-running conflict.

Named ‘What’s It’s Name’ by its creator, Hadi Al Attag, an Iraqi resident, the creature avenges the deaths of those people whose body parts were used to give it life.

Mr Saadawi said he loosely based his story on the original Frankenstein novel by Mary Shelley, the 19th-century British writer.

“There is a very wide gap when exploring Frankenstein in that the story now has been explored in other books and movies,” he said.

“My character is darker and I wanted to have more than two sides to him. He can be a criminal but, at the same time, I wanted to maintain some of his humanity throughout.”

The Saudi critic Saad Al Bazei, who led the five-person judging panel, praised Frankenstein in Baghdad for its sophistication.

“It has a number of characteristics, the most striking of which is the creativity of the concept,” he said. “There is a lot of things going here, there is a journalistic eye in its expression of the state that Iraqis were living in and this was in addition to the plot’s dramatic elements. It is a very multi-faceted novel.”

Included in this year’s shortlist are second-time nominees, Iraq’s Inaam Kachachi, for Tashari, and Syria’s Khaled Khalifa, for No Knives in City Kitchens.

Other finalists were Egypt’s Ahmed Mourad (The Blue Elephant) and Moroccans Youssef Fadel (A Rare Blue Bird that Flies With Me) and Abdelrahim Lahbibi (The Journeys of Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya). All nominees received a $10,000 cash prize.

Check out Arts and Life on Sunday for an interview with Ahmed Saadawi.

sasaeed@thenational.ae