The Monstrous Consequences of the Invasion

Ahmed Saadawi talks to fellow journalist Mikael Olsson Al Safandi. The conversation is interpreted into English.

Uppsala stadsteater
Friday march 22 March,19.00
Language: English
Duration: 45 minutes

Iraqi author, journalist and poet Ahmed Saadawi’s novel Frankenstein in Baghdad has attracted worldwide attention for its original depiction of life in Baghdad during the American occupation. It has been awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and has been translated into many languages. It was published in Swedish translation by Jonathan Morén in 2019.

According to Saadawi himself, he wanted to write ”a manifesto against war” in fiction form. The idea for the story came when Ahmed Sadaawi was working as a correspondent for the BBC and visited a mortuary in Baghdad. A young man wanted to see his brother who had recently been killed by a bomb. He, and Sadaawi, were shown a room full of body parts. The grieving young man lamented and wondered where the rest of his brother was. The mortuary manager’s answer was ”take what you want and make a body yourself.”

This is also what the main character, the scrap dealer Hadi, does in Sadaawi’s book. Stitches body parts together, unaware that the body he has assembled now begins to search for those responsible for the murders of the individuals whose body parts he carries. This is how Mary Shelley’s monster is resurrected in modern guise.

It is a story that takes the form of fevered imagination, a kind of exorcism of the evil spirits that crawled out of the shadows as a result of the US-led invasion in 2003. In his book, Saadawi lists several of the incomprehensibly monstrous consequences it had. He signs everyone as an accomplice: American soldiers, foreign mercenaries, al-Qaeda fighters, militias, warlords, journalists and corrupt Iraqi officers.

An Iraqi identity crisis is one of the consequences Sadaawi dwells on. The paradox of a nation-building split into a diversity of ethnicities and people’s need for belonging. A problem he noted during his many trips to different parts of Iraq as a reporter for various media companies. ”I saw things that cannot be imagined,” Sadaawi says of the time between 2006 and 2008, when the sectarian violence was at its worst.

Many Western film companies have shown interest in making Frankenstein in Baghdad a film, but Sadaawi is very careful to have artistic control over the content. ”There have been many films and TV shows about Iraq and the war, but their heroes are Americans,” says Saadawi. ”The Iraqis have been kept in the background. In the book, there is no American hero. Our heroes are Iraqis”.

Ahmed Saadawi talks to fellow journalist Mikael Olsson Al Safandi. The conversation is interpreted into English.