I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan
  • I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan
  • I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan

I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan

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by Eliza Griswold
     
 

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An eye-opening collection of clandestine poems by Afghan women

Because my love's American,
blisters blossom on my heart.

Afghans revere poetry, particularly the high literary forms that derive from Persian or Arabic. But the poem above is a folk couplet--a landay, an ancient oral and anonymous form created by and for mostly

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Overview

An eye-opening collection of clandestine poems by Afghan women

Because my love's American,
blisters blossom on my heart.

Afghans revere poetry, particularly the high literary forms that derive from Persian or Arabic. But the poem above is a folk couplet--a landay, an ancient oral and anonymous form created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than 20 million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. War, separation, homeland, love--these are the subjects of landays, which are brutal and spare, can be remixed like rap, and are powerful in that they make no attempts to be literary. From Facebook to drone strikes to the songs of the ancient caravans that first brought these poems to Afghanistan thousands of years ago, landays reflect contemporary Pashtun life and the impact of three decades of war. With the U.S. withdrawal in 2014 looming, these are the voices of protest most at risk of being lost when the Americans leave.
After learning the story of a teenage girl who was forbidden to write poems and set herself on fire in protest, the poet Eliza Griswold and the photographer Seamus Murphy journeyed to Afghanistan to learn about these women and to collect their landays. The poems gathered in I Am the Beggar of the World express a collective rage, a lament, a filthy joke, a love of homeland, an aching longing, a call to arms, all of which belie any facile image of a Pashtun woman as nothing but a mute ghost beneath a blue burqa.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
03/31/2014
Landays, 22-syllable folk couplets sung anonymously by women, have long been the dominant form of social satire and gender subversion in Afghan poetry, and Griswold’s translations mark a stunning handling of their complex “beauty, bawdiness, and wit.” Flanked by Murphy’s photographs, with their striking blend of wartime journalism and human compassion, Griswold’s couplets are peppered with brief prose passages in which she delves into the cultural and historical traditions that inform the humor and gravity of her translations. Among her many accomplishments is elucidating the “fury at the presence of the U.S. military and rage at occupation” while also detailing the fears surrounding the end of American occupation, including a return to lives of isolation and oppression for Afghan women. “My lover is fair as an American solider can be,” begins one couplet. “To him I looked dark as a Talib, so he martyred me.” In Griswold’s version of this 19th-century landay, the Pashto word Angrez (English) is no longer translated as “British soldier,” pointing with stark irony to the landscape of contemporary military occupation, and signaling a collection that may indeed be remembered as a groundbreaking work of translation and poetic journalism. Photos. (Apr.)
Library Journal
03/01/2014
The landay is a two-line folk poem invented and shared by Afghan women, an old form still very much alive. These present-day landays offer a peephole into the society of those who have taken great risks to write them. While poetry writing is now permitted in Kabul (it was banned previously by the Taliban), it is still frowned upon in rural areas; authors often refuse credit for their work. Love, oppression, war, and politics are the prime topics. Along with Seamus Murphy's photographs, translator Griswold's commentary decodes the messages, which are not always this clear: "Darling, come down to the river/ I've baked you bread and hidden it in my pitcher." Griswold recounts her difficulties collecting the landays and relates a horrific story of one suicide. Less grim is the fascinating mix of old and new: "Daughter, in America the river isn't wet./ Young girls learn to fill their jugs on the Internet." VERDICT Following up on a New York Times Magazine article ("Why Afghan Women Risk Death To Write Poetry"), Griswold and Murphy, along with their heroic Afghani interpreter, Asma Safi, have documented an artistic movement that is at once delightful and courageous. [See "What's Coming for National Poetry Month in April?" Prepub Alert, 11/18/13.]—Ellen Kaufman, New York

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374191870
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
04/01/2014
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
889,066
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

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