22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Ahmed Saadawi

Portrait Ahmed Saadawi
© Hartwig Klappert

Ahmed Saadawi was born in 1973 in Baghdad and grew up in Sadr City. Saadawi is the author of a volume of poems »The Festival of Bad Music« (2001) as well as the novels »The Beautiful Country« (2004) and »Indeed He Dreams or Dies« (2008). Besides his writing activities, he has worked as a painter, scriptwriter and programme editor at the TV-station al-Hurra. From 2005 until 2007 he worked as a correspondent for the BBC. These days he also works as a documentary film-maker.

In the novel »Frankenstein in Bagdad« (2013), which is set in 2005, Saadawi illustrates in a highly original manner the circle of violence and the political and social dilemmas in his home country. His main character Hadi al-Attag who lives in the Baghdad district of Bataween gathers together the dead body parts of those who have perished in battles and terror attacks. From the collected extremities of the victims he creates a kind of anthropomorphous figure who, soon after miraculously imbued with life, exercises revenge for the dead. However, in the very the moment that individual retribution has been exacted, the incorporated limbs related to it disappear from the creature, which he has named »shesma« (an Arab term roughly meaning »So what is his name again?«). To continue its existence, this monstrosity – which is reminiscent of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – itself starts to kill the innocent. With the aid of the drastic symbolism of that grotesque, even phantasmagoric creature, Saadawi succeeds in capturing the seemingly hopeless conflict of the enemy ethnic groups more emphatically than a merely documentary account would allow for. So not only are the contradictions of a brutal escalation epitomised and simplified, dualities of the Good and the Bad, guilt and innocence transcended, but a complex panorama of the Iraqi metropolis is drawn up with the help of a multitude of characters and perspectives.

In April 2014, at the international book fair in Abu Dhabi, Saadawi was the first Iraqi writer to be awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, an honour that goes hand in hand with an English translation of the winning novel. In 2004 Saadawi had already won a competition of the magazine »Al Sada« which is based in the United Arab Emirates. After being elected to one of the »best 39 Arab authors below the age of 40«, he participated in the project »Beirut 39«, which was brought about in a collaboration between the literary magazine for Arab Literature »Banipal« and the British Council. Saadawi is also one of the signatories of an appeal by Iraqi intellectuals, artists and publicists issued in June 2014. In this open letter, which was publicised on the internet as well as by the Bagdad press, all political and military parties to the conflict are called upon to start mutual talks and work for reconciliation and the protection of cultural sites. Saadawi lives in Bagdad.