London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraqi novelist Ahmad Saadawi was named the winner of the seventh International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) in a ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, in recognition of his latest novel, Frankenstein in Baghdad.
Saadawi lauded the IPAF award in his acceptance speech, saying: “I would like to say that this prize gives very important momentum to the Arabic novel and the Iraqi novel.”
Frankenstein in Baghdad chillingly tells the story of a rag-and-bone man, Hadi Al-Attag, who haunts the streets of the war-torn Baghdad of 2005, searching for fresh human body parts to stitch together. Once completed, the patchwork corpse begins a journey of revenge, on behalf of those whose organs it is made up of.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in the run up to Tuesday’s awards ceremony, the 40-year-old Iraqi novelist said that the corpse “reflects our personal standards of justice, retribution, revenge and punishment . . . it represents the reality” in Iraq.
The chair of the judging panel, Saudi academic Saad Al-Bazei, announced the winner by saying: “We chose Frankenstein in Baghdad for several reasons: first for the originality of its narrative structure, as represented in the ‘what’s-its-name’ character [the Frankenstein’s monster], who embodies the violence currently experienced in Iraq, other Arab countries and the wider world. The story is expertly told on several levels and from multiple viewpoints.”
“For these reasons and more, Frankenstein in Baghdad is a significant addition to contemporary Arabic fiction,” Bazei added.
This is the first time the prestigious prize has been awarded to an Iraqi writer. Saadawi will receive a prize of 60,000 US dollars and his novel will be translated into English.
Born in 1973, Saadawi has published two other novels, The Beautiful Country (2004) and Indeed He Dreams or Plays or Dies (2008), as well as a volume of poetry, Anniversary of Bad Songs (2000).
Frankenstein in Baghdad was chosen from a shortlist of six works: No Knives in this City’s Kitchens by twice-shortlisted Syrian author Khaled Khalifa, Tashari by Iraq’s Inaam Kachachi, A Rare Blue Bird That Flies with Me by Morocco’s Youssef Fadel, The Journeys of ‘Abdi by another Moroccan, Abdelrahim Lahbibi, and The Blue Elephant by Egypt’s Ahmed Mourad, in addition to Saadawi’s Frankenstein.
Each of the shortlisted writers will receive 10,000 US dollars in prize money.