Mohamed El-Bisatie

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Mohamed El-Bisatie was born on November 19, 1937, in the Nile Delta in a place called el-Gamalia, Dakahlia, in Sharqiya Province, Egypt, a setting that dominates most of El-Bisatie’s writings. He came into this world on a stormy night, as he informs his readers in his autobiography, Wa ya’ti al-Qitar (And the train comes, 1999), born to Ibrahim, his father, who was a teacher, and Insaf Rustum, his mother. His mother later told her son that the rain, lightning, and thunder of that birthday storm marked his personality, making him very curious about life and a bit troublesome. He was so difficult as a young boy that his mother at one point attached a rope around his waist, then tied the other end to a stake in the middle of the yard to keep him from causing further problems.

While he was still very young, an epidemic of cholera bore down on his village, and one of its victims was El-Bisatie’s father. His grandfather moved into the family home upon El-Bisatie’s father’s death to help raise the young boy. El-Bisatie had the chore, as a teenager, of boosting his grandfather up onto the family donkey every time the patriarchal figure ventured away from home.

Later, in his teens, El-Bisatie moved away from his family in order to attend the University of Cairo, from which he graduated in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree in commerce and accountancy. Although the Nile Delta area where he grew up figures in all his writing, El-Bisatie has never returned there. As his translator, Johnson-Davies, writes in the article ‘‘Village Life from Within’’ for the publication Al- Ahram Weekly, El-Bisatie has created such a vivid picture of his birthplace through his writing that ‘‘he does not want to risk having the canvas he has painted for himself in any way distorted by reality.’’

In the early 1960s, El-Bisatie began sending out his short stories to various publications. By 1968, he had written and published enough stories to have them collected in his first book, Alkibar wa al-sighar (The old and the young). Subsequently, El-Bisatie has published several more short story collections, including A Last Glass of Tea and Other Stories translated by Johnson-Davies in 1994, in which appears the focused story ‘‘A Conversation from the Third Floor.’’ He has also written several novels, of which only one has been translated into English, namely Houses Behind the Trees, translated by Johnson-Davies in 1998. El-Bisatie is known in Egypt as one of the group of writers called Gallery 68, a reference to a literary magazine of the same name, known as a publisher of avant-garde writers.

After graduating from college, El-Bisatie began a thirty-six-year career as an auditor with Egypt’s Government Auditor’s Office, finally retiring in 1997. He also served as undersecretary of state in Egypt for three years, from 1994 until 1997.

In 1970, El-Bisatie married Sanaa Abdel Aziz, and together they had three children: Rasha, Hisham, and Yasser. The family currently lives in Cairo, Egypt.

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