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Proud Beggars (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – December 27, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“The book that perhaps best expresses Cossery’s characteristic outlook on life and is still his best-known work. Marked by Cossery’s trademark elegance, the novel is humorous and reflective by turns. This is a world of simple pleasures, charming humour and the mockery of anything that might smack of authority.”  —David Tresilian, Al Ahram Weekly

“Albert Cossery...ought to be a household name. he’s that good: an elegant stylist, an unrelenting ironist, his great subject the futility of ambition ‘in a world where everything is false.’” —David Ulin, Los Angeles Times 

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (December 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590174429
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590174425
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,221,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By adorian on September 12, 2013
Format: Paperback
This 1955 novel is a small masterpiece of French Existentialism. It's a vivid portrayal of the low-life denizens of Cairo's worst slums: the beggars, prostitutes, thieves. For them, a two-piaster coin means the difference between sleeping outside or in a seedy hotel room. A prostitute has been murdered in a sleazy brothel. We know who killed her. The question is---will the police inspector find and arrest the killer? The novel walks a fine line between humor and despair. "We're all gonna die, so we might as well live now." What should shock and upset us might make us laugh instead at the impossible situations these characters are in. But there's no way out. Given the choice of crying or laughing, most of them choose to laugh. It will confuse those around them.

The reader is treated to a dazzling rogues gallery of interesting characters. Even the most minor of them are painted vividly. Everyone is a comic philosopher of despair, except for the ones who should be desperate and suicidal. These have a nobility and a self-awareness that raises them above the squalor.

The translation by Alyson Waters is gorgeously prose-poetic. (Who decided to spell "cannon" as "canon" twice on p. 170?) The dialogue is worthy of Beckett. The message would be at home with Gogol. The sights, sounds, and smells of the slums are detailed with an accuracy that should make other authors jealous. The often-hilarious novel is slim (171 pages), but it is thick and fat with the corruption and crimes which should depress us, but which give some of these characters total joy.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Like Albert Cossery's other stories, this one puts you inside an inescapably poor and hopeless life -- in the back streets of Cairo, oppressed by apathy and corruption and stagnation. Sounds fun? Yet it is liberating in its way because if offers a weird logic by which people can endure with a kind of dignity, whether that entails voting a DONKEY for mayor, or laughing out loud during a police beating because the lunch bell rings. Take a breath and try Cossery's books..
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 31, 2007
Format: Paperback
Proud Beggars is an intellectually stimulating novel by Albert Cossery, a challenge to the morals and doctrines imposed by society, set in the slums of Cairo. It is one of Cossery's few novels translated into English, which is frustrating as Proud Beggars certainly leaves the reader wanting more, and my rudimentary understanding of the French language certainly wouldn't carry me through an entire novel. Je ne peux pas comprendre.

While the story centers around the murder of a young prostitute and the subsequent investigation, the actual core of the novel is based on the interactions of the key players, who for the most part are vagrants living in stark contradiction to the rules of modern society. Gohar is a former professor who has chosen a life of poverty and drugs so that he may be truly free. "The notion of the simplest comfort had been banished from his memory long ago. He hated to surround himself with objects: objects concealed hidden germs of misery--the worst kind of all, unconscious misery, which fatally breeds suffering by its unending presence." He assumes a bit of a fatherly role for the others, who bring him necessities of survival, put their own lives at risk for his well-being, and clamber for the gift of his conversation. As somewhat of a local celebrity, Gohar amuses himself daily by observing the absurdity of human action.

Gohar's loyal following includes El Kordi, a clerk who despises his low-wage job, but manages to maintain it only by feeding off the hatred of his colleagues. El Kordi is in love with a dying prostitute, and his need for attention and drama provokes his own confession to the murder he did not commit. The poet Yeghen is Gohar's source of hashish, a con artist with a reputation for informing on his suppliers.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Henry Martin on September 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
I first learned of Albert Cossery via Henry Miller's Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. Like many other authors Miller refferences in his writing, Albert Cossery is a gem among literature. I have read all of his books translated into English and Proud Beggars was my favorite piece of his. Although set in Egypt, the storyline is timeless. Life in poverty, life among the scam only modern society is capable of producing is described in Cossery's easy flowing, imagery rich way. The ending is exceptional, but I shall not mention it, as I do not want to spoil the joy for any future readers of this master work. In many ways, Cossery's message is very relavant today; the message that man is free only when he has nothing to lose. Society, and the middle class in particular is merely tied down, chained by its priced possesions, giving up freedom in exchange for meaningless artifacts. The story incorporates many characters on various levels of the societal hierarchy, from the wealthy and famous philospopher who gave up everything when he understood that his teachings were wrong, to the respected police inspector secretly hiding his love for his gay lover, the cigarette butt scavengers, vendors and thieves. A rich background for the mind to comprehend. I would recommend this book to any one who enjoys quality literary fiction with psychological realism flare.
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