The Orphan of Time: A New Novel by Hassouna Mosbahi

The Orphan of Time Book Cover

Beirut- Al-Quds Al-Arabi: A new novel titled The Orphan of Time by Tunisian novelist Hassouna Mosbahi was published by Jadawel Publishing Translation and Distribution.

The events of this novel take place in a single day when the protagonist reached sixty years of age. The protagonist, Younes or the orphan of time which is a pen name he chose for himself when he started writing in his adolescence, is a professor of French who specialises in Flaubert—his “mentor” in writing as he described him. On the threshold of retirement, Younes separates from his wife, leaves the capital, and dwells in Neapolis on the shore desiring solitude and spending the rest of his life among books that he loves. On his sixty birthday he takes a long trip into the past remembering essential stages in his life: His childhood in which he was smitten with Sufis and ascetics with nothing on their bodies but scabrous wool who live in the mountains and the bushes, the years of his adolescence when he started writing stories and tales under the effect of his favourite writers especially Flaubert, though he decided not to publish what he had written because, for him, writing in his country is “a barren job.” Younes also presents the stormy love story that he lived with the girl who would become his wife later on, and his mad love in his mid age to a beautiful student who was fond of his lectures on Flaubert.

Along his long trip into time, Younes is not just interested in the chapters of his life, but also in lives of others, like Al-Mu’tamid ibn Abbad, the Andalusian poet and Emir who was exiled with his wife and his daughters by the strict Almoravids to the south of Morocco to die in the cuffs of his captivity out of grief and coercion. There are also Hichem and Bechir who return to the country after a long absence to die with angina due to the violent shock that befell on them because of the transformations witnessed by society and people. Through Younes, Hichem, Bechir, and other characters in the novel we know the situations of some Arab countries like post independent Algeria, Libya under the Ghaddafi’s regime, and Lebanon during the civil war.

Several events in the novel reflect the situations of Tunisia in the years of Ben Ali’s rule that led to the earthquake of January 14th, 2011. In the novel there are meditations on life, death, love, writing, and also on the intellectual, the authority, strictness, and extremism in the Arab World today.

Originally appeared in the Tunisian daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi 13/06/2012.

You can read the original text in Arabic here.

Translated from Arabic by Ali Znaidi.

About aliznaidi

Ali Znaidi lives in Redeyef, Tunisia. He graduated with a BA in Anglo-American Studies in 2002. He teaches English at Tunisian public secondary schools. He writes poetry and has an interest in literature, languages, and literary translations. His work has appeared here and there and is scheduled to appear elsewhere . At moments of revelation, he smokes and drinks green tea with mint while pondering.
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