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Proud Beggars

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  390 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
Early in Proud Beggars, a brutal and motiveless murder is committed in a Cairo brothel. But the real mystery at the heart of Albert Cossery’s wry black comedy is not the cause of this death but the paradoxical richness to be found in even the most materially impoverished life.
Chief among Cossery’s proud beggars is Gohar, a former professor turned whorehouse accountant,
Paperback, 171 pages
Published December 27th 2011 by NYRB Classics (first published 1955)
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The title in the original French is Mendiants et orgueilleux, literally "Beggars and Proud People". Cossery explained that it came from an Arabic saying, precisely translated as "a beggar who sets his own conditions."

So, welcome to Egyptian squalor, a place of drugs and beggars and prostitutes. It is a place completely foreign to us Westerners. A place where a government worker is oxymoronic, where classes are strictly defined, where women are objectified. Okay, maybe not so foreign. Nour El Di
Mar 24, 2012 Tosh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful and very young prostitute gets killed in the beginning of “Proud Beggars” which sets off a journey of self-discovery. Also everyone is likable, including the young girl's murderer. Welcome to the world of Albert Cossery!

The narrative takes place in what we believe is in Egypt – perhaps Cairo? Cossery is from the Middle-East but lived in Paris most of his life. A hardcore member of the St-Germain crowd, Cossery is a writer of incredible charm, that is full of poison. What is fascinat
Henry Martin

I often wonder about sentences – about their impact, their purity, their necessity of being. I wonder about wasted words, wasted pages, and wasted stories. I wonder every time I read.

Yet, whenever I reach for The Proud Beggars, I find myself in awe, mesmerized, a captive to Cossery’s mastery of language, his scenes, his characters, and his ideology. If there ever was the perfect literary book, for me, it is this one.

No matter how many times I read this book, it never fails to grab me anew and br
Jan 27, 2014 Jonfaith rated it really liked it
Proud Beggars is an exquisite meditation on dignity, not just another Egyptian noir (though there isn't anything bad about that). Neither is this a tale of the Junkie Raskolnikov in the Medina, which is what the plot suggests initially. The narrative involves a trio of friends in a seedy district of Cairo, each singular in his trials and ambitions. A crime is committed and such alerts the presence of a conflicted police detective. What follows is remarkable. There a re a pair of scenes which exp ...more
Sep 20, 2016 Dajana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ovo je jedna od knjiga koja je presudno uticala na to da se bavim književnošću. Čitala sam je u srednjoj školi na profesorovu preporuku, i ona je gotovo filozofska parabola o klasnim razlikama, ljudskosti, porivima i jedan od pomalo skrajnutih romana apsurda sa mersoovskim likom, što je opravdano, s obzirom na to da se Kosri družio s Kamijem. Ukratko, to je priča o egipatskom profesoru izbačenom s fakulteta zbog drogiranja koji se odlučuje da ubije da bi došao do novca, ali način na koji to čini ...more
I didn't intend the first book of 2017 to be such a short book, but this is the one that fell in my lap first.

Unfortunately this is one of those examples of books where it's meant to be "humorous" and I'm always iffy on those sorts of books because I'm a rat bastard that has no sense of humor. But, it's a short book, so I figured it wouldn't matter too much if I got the humor or not.

Well, it must, because this book didn't do much for me.

The story begins with a murder in a Cairo brothel. What's
Nov 11, 2015 Ken rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished-in-2015
A short (172 pp) and smart book, surprisingly modern. It is at once police procedural and satire, buddy book and philosophical tract. Set in Cairo, it details the grim lives of three men who have chosen to be beggars. You read right: CHOSEN. They see poverty as liberation. They see the world and its authority figures as brutes to be antagonized -- in the case of this book, mostly the police as embodied by Nour El Dine, a proud investigative officer with a taste for young men (it's just part of h ...more
A short novel, but it is one that does make you stop and ponder. Whilst I could not really enjoy the main characters I could appreciate the vein in which this shorter novel is written in. I would have no doubt rated the novel higher but I couldn't really enjoy the way women were portrayed - I suppose I'm a bit biased in that respect.
Feb 09, 2017 Wendy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This slim book was a gem. Written in 1955 about the intellectual life of beggars in Cairo and the police inspector who feels one of these beggars committed a motiveless murder makes one think about what brings peace and happiness. Cossery uses dark humor to show the dignity in those who live in abject poverty and squalor and creates characters who do should, but do not, invoke pity, if anything they almost invoke envy!
Francisco H. González
En contra de la ideología reinante que liga el progreso y la dicha a la acumulación de bienes materiales, esta estupenda novela de Albert Cossery (1913-2008), publicada por Pepitas de calabaza, con traducción de Mauricio Wacquez, viene a ser un “Elogio del despojamiento”, tal que sus personajes buscan el retorno a una vida más primitiva, más sencilla, donde la ausencia de cualquier riqueza, implica que no haya nada que perder, ni por tanto, nada que padecer, al dejar cualquier afán y ambición fu ...more
Aug 31, 2012 jeremy rated it liked it
Shelves: translation, fiction
despite living in paris for nearly all of his adult life (having been born in cairo), most of albert cossery's eight books are set in egypt. proud beggars (mendiants et orgueilleux), taking place in the egyptian capital city, revolves around the events that follow the murder of a young prostitute. sharing themes common to his other books, this novel, while lively and often amusing, does not seem to thrive the way some of his other works so characteristically do. one of the more admirable qualiti ...more
Jun 05, 2013 Richard rated it liked it
Unlikable self-satisfied nihilists see through the veil and live seemingly enlightened lives apart from morality. The plot follows three characters, a civil servant/armchair revolutionary, a drug dealer poet, and a disillusioned professor. Destitute by choice, and refusing to participate in society, the three friends scrape by through lazy corruption, scams, and the kindness of strangers, respectively. There is a "The Stranger"-like murder that draws an uptight, closeted gumshoe to their circle ...more
Noura Khalil
May 14, 2015 Noura Khalil rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
يمكن شخصيات الرواية وكيفية اختيارها كانت اكتر ناحية عجبتني في الرواية ، .
مثلا ، جوهر مثقف فقير مُعدم يعيش في حجرة مهدمة فقيرة، لا تصلح للحيوانات، وينام علي جرائد لا يجد قوت يومه ،شخصية قليلة الحديث ،دائما ما يشعر بالزيف نحو الاشياء ،يري ان التشرد انسب فلسفة للحياة ، ترك منصبه كأستاذ للتاريخ في الجامعه ليعمل مراجعا للحسابات في يبت الدعارة،وذلك لشعوره بالزيف في منطق التاريخ، خصوصا وفي منطق العلم عموما، حيث يعتبر بيت الدعارة اكثر صدقا من كتب التاريخ والمناصب الجامعية.توقف جوهر عن القراءة والثقافة،
Mar 30, 2013 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: french
I read this book a while ago and I still don't think I can give a adequate review. I don't know what to say or where to start. The story revolves around 3 men leading impoverished lives by choice, but who are living in contentment without the necessity of materialistic ideals subjected upon them by the world around them. From the very beginning I loved the characters, even though they are drug addicts who seem to reject any kind of ambition.. --you really can't help but like them.

I don't conside
Cosery creates an other-worldly mood to envelope--not explain--his characters actions. To behave absurdly is the only rational modus operandi in an absurdly, often viciously, governed country. Rather than actively foment revolution or conduct obstructionist operations, the main characters refuse to participate. They undermine through laughter. The mystery is thus not who killed the prostitute, or whether the police will identify the killer. It's whether the main characters will get away with the ...more
Nicholas During
Jan 03, 2012 Nicholas During rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great introduction to a fascinating author. Though I suspect that it is not the best of Cossery's novels, certainly there is a troubling lack of positive female characters, I found the "joy-in-misery" philosophy of the book really enjoyable and interesting. And if this is your philosophy--a positive Existentialism in that life is at heart a fun thing, except we are constantly being bossed around by the Hunter Thompson 'bastards'--then what better way to express it that literature. This book is ...more
Jon Anzalone
Dec 29, 2011 Jon Anzalone rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant, and staggeringly, simply offensive to Western morality standards. We are told the best education comes from travel, and that travel teaches us about the world. Proud Beggars taps into that same strain of lessons, teaching the way the rules of the world are bent under pressure from depraved situations, and how that strangeness somehow becomes acceptable.
منى كريم
May 11, 2015 منى كريم rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
noncooperation is the solution!
On the one hand, this is a very polished work with some radiant sentences. On the other it is too short not allowing the characters to be fully developed. The philosophical ideas are interesting but too vague. The story was interesting but not interesting enough for me to miss it when I was through with it. So, a bit of a disappointment, this one.
Nov 18, 2016 Krumpet rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Il mérite même pas son étoile, puis je l'ai pas encore fini mais wooow, ce bouquin..
Tellement haineux et haïssable O.o
J'aurais du me méfier quand les 3 personnages principaux étaient masculins. Puis quand chaque personnage secondaire féminin qui apparaissait était plaintif et désagréable. Je ne l'ai pas fait. J'ai pas fait attention, il y en a mille des auteurs écrit par des hommes, pour des hommes que j'ai aimé quand même (Coucou Steinbeck ! Je t'adore, mais pour l'instant il n'y a qu'un roman
Jan 09, 2015 Ferris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an incredible novel! I do not know if it is satirical or deadly serious. Probably both. Set in Post WWII Egypt amongst a host of beggars, the reader gets a glimpse into a sub-culture which may well represent the only means to true peace and joy? If one has nothing left to lose, life becomes full of peace? The cast of characters?: Gohar (university professor become hashish addict whose dream is to migrate to Syria where there are free fields of hashish), Yeghen (Gohars's dealer and suppli ...more
A clunky, kind of cumbersome style. Also a bit repetitious--and he's one of these guys who says something at the start of a paragraph, denies it in the middle and winds up saying the opposite at the end. Still, an intriguing wash/mix of ideas. Not quite the major mindfuck it was for me when I read it the first time; but still pretty damned cool.
Sep 02, 2016 Ana rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I get the idea of the book, the whole lifestyle thing but I just couldn't shake off all the misogyny, made me disgusted, right now in my life I can't cope with certain things.
Joshua Buhs
A lot going on in this short book, not so much plot-wise as idea-wise and stuff-for-thought-wise: I can't find a unified way to think about the book.

Cossery's book is written about the intersecting lives of four men in post-World War II Egypt. There's a crime, but we know who did it, and it's never solved (sorry for the spoilers, the book was originally published 60 years ago, so . . . ). Indeed, not much happen. Gohar, an ex-professor drug addict, and accountant for a brothel, looks for Yehgen
Edwin Lang
Dec 13, 2015 Edwin Lang rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015

This is a book of fiction but one that is so wonderfully crafted that I was mesmerized by the language, imagery and scenes, the ideology and the characters, all of whom Albert Cossery from the very beginning breathes life and vibrancy into, from Gohar Effendi, the once wealthy and respected philosophy and history professor who left everything behind to become a beggar, Yeghen, a hideous disfigured and amoral poet, El Kordi, a well-educated but lazy and ineffectual government clerk and Nour el Di
Sep 30, 2016 Alana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A gritty, macabre Egyptian "Three's Company".
Dec 27, 2016 Jeff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
didn't enjoy this quite as much as The Jokers, which was more relentlessly on message. Still, a decent book.
Chuck LoPresti
Feb 23, 2012 Chuck LoPresti rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Something left me somewhat underwhelmed here - Cossery is a great writer - but having read so many really stellar reviews, ranking it as his masterpiece - I expected too much. What I got was less than the joy I had in reading Cossery's Jokers. Is it because the alacrity the characters find in themselves after the murder of a prostitute is a bit unsettling? Is it because in Cossery females seem to serve strictly as demons or whores? I've experienced so many revolting images in books, music and mo ...more
Lukáš Palán
Feb 29, 2016 Lukáš Palán rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: egyptian
Egypt se rýmuje s hašišpt a Cossery se rýmuje s posery - náhoda? Těžko. A tak se i druhá v češtině vydaná kniha Alberta Cosseryho nese na vlně hašiše a životních poserů, kteří žijí v toaletě jménem Káhira a tam se bezmezně oddávají chození po ulicích, žebrání a pití čaje. Kromě průjmu ono toho ostatně ani moc jiného v Egyptě dělat nejde.

Hrdí žebráci začínají vraždou prostitutky. Místo detektivky to hned z kraje vypadá na egyptskej Zločin a trest, protože vrah je filozof a všichni jeho kámoši sho
May 18, 2013 Michael rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The comments on the back say that this book, set in post-WWII Cairo, is elegant, ironic, charmingly humorous, and reflective. They rave about Cossery's rejection of authority and dismissal of ambition. These assessments are mostly accurate. What's missing, to this reader at least, is a reference to the sexism wrapped up in all this elegance and humor. The central act of the novel is a hashish addict strangling a young prostitute because he erroneously believes that he'll be able to buy a large q ...more
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NYRB Classics: Proud Beggars, by Albert Cossery 1 4 Oct 29, 2013 06:52PM  
  • Monsieur Monde Vanishes
  • Witch Grass
  • The World as I Found It
  • The Expendable Man
  • The Skin
  • My Fantoms
  • Ride a Cockhorse
  • Mr. Fortune's Maggot; and, The Salutation
  • Apartment in Athens
  • Fatale
  • The Bridge of Beyond
  • No Tomorrow
  • The Letter Killers Club
  • The Horseman on the Roof
  • Equal Danger
  • Pages from the Goncourt Journals
  • After Claude
  • Prisoner of Love
Albert Cossery (November 3, 1913 – June 22, 2008) was an Egyptian-born French writer of Greek Orthodox Syrian and Lebanese descent, born in Cairo.

Son of small property owners in Cairo, at the age of 17, inspired by reading Honoré de Balzac, Albert Cossery ( Arabic: البرت قصيري) emigrated to Paris. He came there to continue his studies which he never did devote himself to, writing and settled perma
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“Nour El Dine felt much more comfortable with the vagabonds, the rabble born to commit sordid offenses. At least you could frighten them. But these disreputable intellectuals were forever breaking down all sense of authority in him. Nour El Dine considered himself a reasonable being; that is, he believed in the existence of the government and in the speeches pronounced by ministers. He had blind faith in the institutions of the civilized world. The attitude of Yeghen and his fellow men always disconcerted him; they appeared not to realize that there was a government. They were not against the government; they simply were not aware of it.” 0 likes
“Gohar smiled at the thought of El Kordi, at his exaggeration of his troubles, more fictitious than real, and his constant search for human dignity. "What is most futile in man," he thought, "is this search for dignity." All these people trying to maintain their dignity! For what? The history of mankind is a long, bloody nightmare only because of such nonsense.” 0 likes
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