Biography of Time

Biography of Time

Publishing House: Arab Cultural Center

Publication Year: 2019

Genre: Biography

Number of Pages: 280

In “Biography of Time: The Life of an Individual, The Tale of a Generation,” Dr. Mujab Al-Zahrani narrates his life’s journey from the southern regions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the suburbs of Paris. This book unfolds the author’s childhood experiences, illustrating the simplicity yet hardship of village life. It further traces his educational journey in Riyadh and his continued studies in France. Al-Zahrani shares tales and adventures from his adolescence, including emotional experiences and his perspective on the Sahwa movement, along with various situations that occurred during that time.

This work by the Saudi academic Dr. Majid Al-Zahrani defies easy classification. While it could be seen as an autobiography, detailing an individual’s relationship with his community, its title suggests it also encompasses the narrative of a group as experienced by an individual. The book may even transcend these genres, blending epic and tragedy, uniting opposites, and harmonizing elements like humor and biting satire with existential angst and the pain of being. It provokes both laughter and tears, sometimes extracting smiles forcibly, while also delving into the profound anguish of existence.

Al-Zahrani’s autobiography doesn’t draw a line between past and present, or between his village in southwestern Saudi Arabia and Paris. In his narrative, the concepts of time and place lose their traditional meanings, merging into the author’s self, where memories flow from deep childhood like water in the valleys of his green homeland. The book not only celebrates the natural beauty of the region but also appreciates the beauty of life there—its simplicity, spontaneity, and tolerance—before the winds of change altered them.

“Biography of Time” is not a conventional autobiography or a dry historical or anthropological account. It uncovers hidden aspects of Saudi—and broader Arab—society, its political, intellectual, and cultural ebbs and flows, inviting further exploration and research. If this work were to be classified, it might best fit within the tradition of Arabic vagabond literature, a genre that includes poets of the Arabian Peninsula known for their rebellious and unconventional style.

Al-Zahrani, fascinated by the work of Al-Jahiz and writing his first academic paper on his literature, views himself as a modern-day nomad or outsider, even in his land of exile. He mentions feeling alienated even within his own family’s village, “Al-Ghuraba” (The Strangers), possibly named after a Sufi ancestor or an “egg of a crow” from which his family lineage supposedly hatched.

The book paints Al-Zahrani as an outsider, an identity he embraces, feeling estranged even in his homeland, much like Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi. Al-Zahrani’s narrative expresses a deep reverence for life and a defiance against the culture of death. It strongly advocates for women’s dignity and rights, reflecting the author’s experiences with strong, self-sacrificing women in his life.

“Biography of Time” is a timeless story, extending beyond a traditional autobiography or a mere historical record. It not only chronicles sixty years of Al-Zahrani’s life but also crucially documents a significant phase in Saudi Arabia’s history and the societal changes therein. More broadly, it offers insights into the Arab intellectual and literary scene, capturing the struggle between forces of tradition and modernity that continue to shape Arab societies.

Read More About Mujab Al-Zahrani

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