4d188e0bf0788210VgnVCM100000e56411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2009-Q1Mohammad al Bisatie: Hunger3d188e0bf0788210VgnVCM100000e56411ac____Mohammad al Bisatie: HungerIn the shortlisted novel Hunger (Ju'), the Egyptian writer Mohammad al Bisatie ranges over familiar territory - the world of the Egyptian village - but instead of politics he focuses on the social nightmare in which his characters live.<p><b>In the shortlisted novel Hunger (Ju'), the Egyptian writer Mohammad al Bisatie ranges over familiar territory - the world of the Egyptian village - but instead of politics he focuses on the social nightmare in which his characters live. </b>
<b>Were you surprised by the novel's appearance on the shortlist of the Arab Booker?</b>
Yes. When I wrote it, I considered it an ordinary novel, a step on the way I have mapped out for myself. I said to myself: "What do I want with prizes after so many years?" But, the more I thought about it now, the more I was convinced that the Arab Booker is not only hugely popular but also has significant critical resonance.
In your novels, there is a drive to demonstrate the spiritual power of the characters and their ability to elude the poverty that shapes the real.
Especially over the last few years, the writer is no longer able to stay away from the concerns of social-political reality even in the short story, because these concerns have become extremely pressing. So in the process of writing it is hard to break out of them.
<b>In the novels that preceded Ju', your writing painted a picture of the fantastical village, which does not exist in reality. Why have you returned to painting the features of a realistic village with the all the details of its residents' tragedy?</b>
I consider this a kind of suspense. One is sometimes nostalgic for the solid ground one stands on as a writer. The fantastical novels I have written, like Daqq at Tuboul, which won the Sawiris Foundation Prize in Egypt, came into being spontaneously.
Many of the articles written about Ju' allude to Knut Hamsun's Hunger.
Hamsun's novel is beautiful and, though I read it many years ago, it did not occur to me to write a similar novel. At the personal level I was taken by the hunger-induced hysteria of Hamsun's hero, but the Bisatie hunger was written while I thought of the trials and tribulations of a simple Egyptian family.
<b>Despite the cruel reality lived by the characters, you have managed to avoid melodrama.</b>
Melodrama weakens any work. When I want the reader to feel the character weeping, I do not make that character weep at all. I prefer to portray the character in a state of readiness for weeping.
<b>Early on in your career you were close to an important writer, Abdulfattah al Gamal, the godfather of your generation. He had artistic ideas different from what was prevalent in the 1960s. Do you think al Gamal's backing and his artistic school gave you the security to practise different kinds of writing?</b>
Abdulfattah al Gamal was a great aid to me as well as other writers. I remember at the time there was a fad for Absurdism. I wrote one Absurdist story and al Gamal said: "What is this nonsense?" And he published it so that I would learn the lesson of seeing my name attached to something I did not believe in.
<b>Language in your last few books has become more informally day-to-day and familiar, yet you have not given up standard Arabic. What brought you to this choice?</b>
I have been through battles with language while writing. I still write with a dictionary beside me, and I often discover that many of the words we use in the vernacular are actually standard Arabic, yet sometimes a vernacular word just has no equivalent in standard.
<b>I want to move on to a general observation about your work: the seemingly objective relationship with the language, which is loaded with poetry. How did this develop?</b>
My job as a financial inspector took me to see almost every village and town of Egypt, which widened my fictional world. It also trained me to write in a neutral and severe tone. As for the poetic quality, like the majority of creative writers I started out writing poetry, and to this day I have a box full of romantic poetry that I never published.
<b>You speak of the reception of your works among young people, but do you think this reflects the veracity of your artistic choices?</b>
A young novelist once greeted me saying, "You've started writing the way we do, Ustaz." Others may consider this remark an insult, but it made me happy, because it means my writing is still young.
<b>Do you think the popularity of the novel is a sign of literary health or a passing phenomenon?</b>
A sign of health, yes, especially since the art of the short story is regressing the world over, I don't know why - even though it is a difficult art in which faults are magnified, while the novel is easy by comparison.</p>
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