The Life I Lived: A Century of Yemeni History Through the Eyes of Muhammad Abdullah al-Fusayel
"The Life I Lived, My Story with the Transformations of Thought and Politics in Yemen from 1926 to 2022" is a two-part memoir written by Muhammad Abdullah al-Fusayel,
a prominent Yemeni politician. The book, printed with funding from the Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC) and published by the Arab Institute for Studies and Publishing, is a comprehensive account of al-Fusayel's experiences spanning almost a century of Yemeni history.
In his memoir, al-Fusayel shares his personal experiences and unique perspective on the political and social dynamics of Yemen, shedding light on the challenges and opportunities that have shaped its past, present, and future. Through engaging prose and insightful commentary, al-Fusayel takes readers on a journey through his life, from his orphaned childhood to his role in the relentless opposition struggle during the Imamate era, the Constitutional Revolution of 48, and the Republican eras.
By chronicling his life and the events he witnessed, al-Fusayel paints a vivid picture of Yemeni history and offers readers a deeper understanding of the country's political and social developments. His memoir is a valuable resource for scholars and researchers interested in Yemeni history and politics, as well as for anyone interested in the country's rich culture and heritage.
Al-Fusayel dedicated his book, which consists of 560 pages in a large format, by saying, "From the free and the revolutionaries of the past to the revolutionaries of the present and the future, for remembrance and inspiration." In the introduction, he stated that what he wrote could be considered an intellectual and autobiographical memoir, as the events he co-created, experienced and witnessed were born out of a patriotic conviction rather than personal ambitions or desires. He emphasized that his generation, as well as those that preceded him, were living and struggling for change in Yemen with national ideals, rather than resorting to the political methods of flexibility and the usual political maneuvering.
The historical record reveals that al-Fusayel, before deciding to pen his memoirs and memories, was often approached by friends, acquaintances, and even strangers during chance encounters on the street or at social gatherings. They would inquire, with great interest, whether he had already written his memoirs. Some were taken aback by his negative response, while others firmly believed that as someone who had lived through and experienced the events of modern Yemeni history, it was his national and historical duty to take on such a task. They held Al-Fusayel in high regard and had faith in his unwavering honesty and integrity to reveal the facts and secrets of those events.
Al-Fusayel adds, "I was influenced more by the sincere words of these young people than by the insistence of my friends whom I hold dear. So I decided to write my memoirs and began to review my entire life since birth up until this day. I looked back at my orphaned childhood years with my great mother who instilled in me a sense of dignity and pride, and I reviewed my role in the relentless opposition struggle during the Imamate era and in the Constitutional Revolution of 48. I reviewed my part in paving the way for the revolution and the suffering that followed its downfall, as well as my role during all the Republican eras in attempting to restore the revolution's goals, before and after the achievement of Yemeni unity, and my role in the House of Representatives, and in trying to contain crises to protect unity. I reviewed all of this in moments that reminded me of two wonderful verses from the poetry of the Yemeni poet and martyr Muhammad Mahmud al-Zubayri, who said:
Life is regained in minutes,
And eons gazing out of seconds' windows,
As if the past lingers in the soul,
Or its echoes were retrieved by dreams
"Writing memoirs or memoir literature is one of the most difficult tasks for a writer because he or she is attempting to document or chronicle historical events that they have experienced or witnessed. However, this is not entirely accurate, as those who write their memoirs or memoir literature are in fact witnesses before the court of history, rather than historians. There is a difference between being a witness and being a historian. We provide our testimonies before the court of history, where there are no judges who listen to the testimony of witnesses individually, gather them, search for other witnesses, investigate those testimonies, analyze and scrutinize them in order to reach the truth. This is a task that witnesses cannot perform. Those who carry out this task are historians who have no connection to the issues concerning others. Furthermore, not all witnesses who provide their testimonies are above suspicion or distant from it, or able, when giving their testimonies, to control their personal biases, both apparent and hidden."
The author states in the introduction to his memoirs and memories that he refers to certain points that concern him, future writers, and readers. He notes that those who write their memoirs often begin with phrases that confirm or suggest their commitment to truth, honesty, and objectivity in their writing, or at least their attempt to do so. The author claims that he has made a sincere effort to be truthful and honest in his testimony before the court of history. He acknowledges that when a memoir writer writes about events they have contributed to and experienced, they often color the events with their own biases, making it difficult to remain objective and detached from the influences of the self - both conscious and unconscious. Therefore, he emphasizes the importance of attempting to remain objective rather than claiming objectivity. The author states that he will make a sincere and earnest attempt to be truthful, honest, and detached in recording his memoirs and memories.
According to Al-Fusayel, writing about personal experiences and memories in a memoir involves recounting events that the author has experienced, as well as the people who were involved in shaping those events - whether as allies or adversaries. Therefore, the accuracy or validity of these events can vary depending on the author's perspective, awareness, personal goals, and even their level of understanding. This understanding can be influenced by their overall perception, which may be comprehensive or limited.
The author observes that when writing about personal experiences in memoirs, there is a common mistake of trying to generalize a limited perspective of one aspect of an event as if it encompasses all other aspects that were not witnessed. Some writers may mistakenly believe that their perspective is all-encompassing, and they may object to others highlighting aspects that they missed. The author acknowledges that they too may have made this error.
The author further explains that the creation of historical events is a complex process involving various groups with differing opinions and understanding. These groups may not even know each other, and it may take several generations to complete the factors that shape an event. The group or generation that emerges and highlights the event may appear to have made it, but in reality, they are simply completing the process of its creation.
In Mohammed Al-Fusayel's view, a writer's attempt to remain objective while writing may lead them to highlight the truth, but their personal desires may influence their portrayal of the truth as either black or white, ignoring its actual complexity. This results in a limited portrayal of the truth. Alternatively, the writer may exaggerate the colors and shades of the truth to make it appear more attractive or repulsive than it is in reality, or even present it in a distorted, caricatured form.