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'Frankenstein in Baghdad' to come to life in film

Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi's award-winning novel "Frankenstein in Baghdad" is to become a film.
Iraqi writer, Ahmed Saadawi poses with his book titled in French "Frankenstein a Bagdad" (Frankenstein in Baghdad) on August 4, 2016 in the capital Baghdad.
When Ahmed Saadawi finished writing "Frankenstein in Baghdad", a dark fantasy about the war that tore Iraq apart a decade ago, he thought his novel dealt with the past. But just like the monster Mary Shelley first dreamt up exactly 200 years ago, Saadawi's hero took on a life of its own. Saadawi won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014 and

BAGHDAD — Iraqi writer Ahmed Saadawi signed a contract with a British production company that will adapt his award-winning novel “Frankenstein in Baghdad" into a film.

Saadawi has received several offers to adapt his rich story into a series, play or film since his book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014. While he had refused such offers in the past, he now seems happy to be turning his novel into a film.

The novel, published in 2013 by Manshurat al-Jamal and translated into several languages, revolves around Hadi al-Attag, a vendor of antiques who collects limbs from victims of the bombings that hit Baghdad in 2005. He uses the limbs to create a strange creature. The creature seeks revenge from those who carried out the massacres.

The novel addresses the rampant violence in Iraq, the bad mechanisms used to address violence as well as the fate of religious minorities in the country. It talks in detail about the security, political and social situation in Iraq in 2005-2006.

Saadawi did not disclose to Al-Monitor the name of the British company that will produce the film. He said, however, that the company will not produce the film alone and that “there will be an alliance with other companies, possibly of different nationalities, with the aim of achieving a strong production.”

According to the contract, the film production will start within 18 months. “That does not mean that the production will be over in 18 months, but that on any day of these months, cameras will start rolling,” Saadawi said, who’s new novel “The Chalk Door” was published in January.

Saadawi noted that there were many details related to turning the book into a script and to the selection of the cast, but he was not personally involved with them. “I am not in the know on such details, but my literary agent in Britain — Andrew Nurnberg — will be closely following the production process, and he will inform me of the details and developments related to this aspect,” he noted.

Saadawi received a number of Arab offers, including one from Egypt, to adapt his novel into a drama production, but he refused. “I did not think this would be beneficial for the novel,” he said.

“Frankenstein in Baghdad” whetted the appetites of many foreign filmmakers who wanted to turn the book into a film, but they waited for the English translation of the novel. "Frankenstein in Baghdad" will be out in British and American bookstores in early 2018 through the Penguin and One World publishing houses.

“I received offers from big companies, some of which were in Hollywood, to turn the novel into a film, but they said they were waiting for the publication of the English edition of the novel,” he said. “Despite the announcement of the signing of the film contract, I received an offer from a French company. I also received an offer from a Canadian company."

As for the interest in turning the novel into a film, Saadawi explained, “I think that some of the people interested in the novel were attracted by the fantasy story of the main character, Frankenstein al-Baghdadi, and the police prosecution in the novel, which is suitable for a thriller and action film.”

Saadawi was keen to explain to the filmmakers that the novel was not only a thriller. “The novel has other levels, and I was keen in the negotiations with the production companies to make sure that they do not ignore these aspects,” he said.

Foreign films dealing with countries such as Iraq have often been criticized due to the scriptwriters and directors’ lack of knowledge about Iraqi life, the environment and the circumstances of the country as well as the crises experienced by the country. Saadawi, however, was positive that this would not happen with his book. “My literary agent is well-aware of that and we agreed with the British company that they will highlight all the key aspects of the novel and that nothing will be changed in the final script, the basic lines or the characters of the novel,” he said.

Iraqi film critic Firas al-Sharout told Al-Monitor that adapting “Frankenstein in Baghdad” into a film would be “magnificent.”

Sharout, who is studying cinema at the University of Qadisiyah in al-Diwaniya in southern Iraq, said that this may open "wider horizons" for other novels and for other perspectives on the buried Iraqi reality.

He also pointed to the importance of finding “one or more advisers in the know on the Iraqi society structure and the way people dress and talk to overcome the stereotypes usually found in international cinema about Iraq.”

Saadawi's announcement that his novel will be turned into a film received acclaim in the Arab press, and it was treated as a paramount cultural event that can perhaps influence film production companies that usually neglect Arab literature to keep an eye on Arab culture.

“Frankenstein in Baghdad,” if produced by the British company into a film that highlights all the details in Saadawi's book, will reflect the suffering of Iraq in all respects, especially at the security level, which Saadawi primarily focuses on before tackling other aspects.

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