Publishing House: The American University in Cairo Press

Publication Year: 2015

Genre: Novel

Number of Pages: 124

“Hunger: An Egyptian Novel” by Mohamed El-Bisatie is a poignant narrative set against the backdrop of the Egyptian countryside, a setting El-Bisatie portrays with profound understanding and depth. The novel adopts an episodic structure, unfolding the story of a family struggling with the all-consuming issue of hunger. This family consists of Zaghloul, the idle father, Sakeena, his long-suffering wife, and their two young sons. El-Bisatie weaves a tale that explores the fundamental human yearnings for sustenance, love, and sexual fulfillment.

Sakeena’s life is an unending cycle of trying to secure enough bread to prevent her family from starving. Meanwhile, Zaghloul, who is disinclined to labor, sporadically works at a local café. He is more interested in eavesdropping on conversations about various topics. Including politics, a subject he wishes he knew more about had he been educated. He also finds himself engrossed in the sexual adventures recounted by young university students. An unexpected opportunity arises for Zaghloul. When he is tasked with assisting an overweight, elderly man, requiring help in mounting and dismounting his mule.

The narrative shifts focus between Zaghloul and Sakeena, and eventually, it centers on their elder son. Lacking formal education, the son exhibits more initiative than his father and finds his own way to contribute to the family’s sustenance. Despite the grim connotations of its title, “Hunger” is infused with a lightness and subtle humor that are characteristic of El-Bisatie’s writing style, rendering the book an engaging and insightful read.

Mohamed El-Bisatie (1937-2012) authored several novels and short story collections. These stories including “A Last Glass of Tea,” “Houses Behind the Trees,” “Clamor of the Lake,” and “Over the Bridge.” His literary excellence was recognized with the prestigious Oweiss Prize in 2001. The novel’s translation into English was undertaken by Denys Johnson-Davies, a renowned translator of modern Arabic literature. Johnson-Davies’ translations have been instrumental in bringing Arabic literature to a wider audience. Earning him accolades such as the Sheikh Zayed Book Award in 2007 for Personality of the Year in the Field of Culture. His translations have played a crucial role in the global appreciation of Arabic writers, with Edward Said describing him as “the leading Arabic-English translator of our time.”

Read More About Mohamed El-Bisatie

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