And the winner is: Frankenstein in Baghdad wins Arabic Booker Prize

Published May 3rd, 2014 - 08:56 GMT

Ahmed Saadawi named the winner on the eve of the start of the biggest ever Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. 

The writer who made it all the way to the $60,000 and the prestigious Arabic Booker Prize title was announced on Tuesday on the eve of the start of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF). He is Ahmed Saadawi and his winning novel is Frankenstein in Baghdad.

“We chose Frankenstein in Baghdad for several reasons. Firstly for the originality of its narrative structure, as represented in the ‘what’s-its-name’ character, 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,” explained jury member Saad Al Bazei. Born in 1973 in Baghdad where he works as a documentary filmmaker, Ahmed Saadawi is an Iraqi novelist, poet and screenwriter.

His novel, inspired by Frankenstein’s myth, is centred around Hadi Al Attag’s creation.

In the spring of 2005 in Baghdad, Hadi starts taking body ports of those killed in explosions and sews them together to create a new body. When a displaced soul enters one of these bodies, Hadi calls it the “what’s-its-name”, the authorities name it “criminal X” and others refer to it as “Frankenstein”, as he embarks on a journey to revenge those who killed the people he is made of.

“Of course, the novel addresses humanity. What Iraqis are suffering are humanity-related problems,” stressed Saadawi.

Frankenstein in Baghdad was selected as the winner of 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, aka Arab Booker Prize, from 156 entries from 18 countries across the Arab World.

The other five finalists, who each got awards for $10,000 each, are: Youssef Fadel (Morocco) for A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me, Inaam Kachachi (Iraq) for Tashari, Khaled Khalifa (Syria) for No Knives in this City’s Kitchen, Abdelrahim Lahbibi (Morocco) for The Journey of Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya, and Ahmed Mourad (Egypt) for The Blue Elephant.

The morning after the prize ceremony, the ADIBF was officially opened by Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Youth and Community Deveopment, who toured the biggest fair ever.

The fair will continue at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre until May 5.

Rare books, a cinema “box”, classical Arabic music and Arab poetry, Swedish children books, public interviews and talks with writers, an Emirati literary salon, Emirati heritage, books, arts and crafts are all part of the fair, which reached its 24th year.

“Since we developed ADIBF after the Frankfurt book fair model, we’ve seen lots of interest in literature and development of the publishing industry in Abu Dhabi,” said Mohammed Al Shehhi, director of Research and Publishing at the National Library.

“For example, more than 200 publishers received subsidies at the fair in the past five years. Also, we now have 30 Emirati publishers who keep growing and developing themselves to Western standards,” he also told Khaleej Times.

The fair keeps growing in the number of visitors too, by up to 3,000 every year.  Last year ADIBF exceeded 225,000 visitors and even more are expected this May. “Next year, as we will celebrate our 25th year, it will be even bigger. We will extend the space to six halls,” mentioned Al Shehhi.

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