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

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  422 ratings  ·  95 reviews
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 w
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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 ·  422 ratings  ·  95 reviews

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Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of (women's) poetry; with interest in Afghanistan literature/traditions
Recommended to 7jane by: Seemita Pooja
This is a book on a poetry tradition in Afghanistan called landays, mostly practiced by Pashtun women, literate or illiterate, often sung and accompanied by a handrum (if not prohibited). (Note: at least one here is from a male, but generally majority of the practicers of this style are women.)

When I was a kid, I was a king:
Free to stroll with the girls.

The possible danger is always controlling society/family, death from them or suicide... it's never certain how long one can practice one's creat
David Schaafsma
In my dream, I am the president.
When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.

This is an amazing collection of poetry, for many reasons! One, the book itself is beautiful, a lovingly constructed artifact with poems by rural Afghani women and girls, essays and explanatory annotations by Griswold, and photographs by Seamus Murphy. What do we really know of Pashtun women? We know that girls have to fight to go to school. We know it is a severely patriarchal society. Who are these women in the burkas?!
Nov 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, feminism
Beautiful and heartbreaking, all at the same time. Exquisite in their brevity, managing to still pack a punch. That's the best way I can sum up these landlays, two line poems that are recited by Afghan women. The authors of the landlays are completely diluted in time. No one can say where most started. These are poems that have trickled down from generation to generation, a few words changing here and there to reflect the modern times but their essence remains.

Become a beggar, then come to me.
Landays, Afghan two-line poems, some centuries old, have an ephemeral quality, like a scrap of smoke in the air, or a remembered scent, hardly there. They are sung, or recited accompanied by a drum to keep time. Landays began among nomads and farmers and were sung around a campfire, though now both men and women use them in their daily life, as humor, as riposte, as an expression of grief or protest.

Eliza Griswold travelled to Afghanistan with the photographer Seamus Murphy when they’d heard a y
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Landays are two-line songs in which women of the traditional Pashtun in Afghanistan and Pakistan make pointed commentary about their lives. And what songs they are, if the translations by Eliza Griswold are in any way accurate: sharp, unblinking, often witty commentary on love (including desire) family and, inevitably in that part of the world, violence. The format is a nine-syllable line followed by one of thirteen that ends in the sound -ma or -na. Somehow, despite the economic hardship of the ...more
Rebecca Renner
Sep 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Another read for Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge.

This was my entry for "Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love."

I Am the Beggar of the World is intricate and culturally nuanced! I didn't even know what a landay was before I read this. So not only was the poetry beautiful, I learned a lot about oral story-telling in Afghanistan, too.
Jan 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I totally loved this book.

Muska was a young Afghan woman who was not allowed to leave her home. Educating girls was considered dishonorable and dangerous. She wrote a poem learning now only from listening to the radio. She would set herself on fire. Her brothers beat her after discovering her writing poetry. It implies dishonor and free will. She would die soon after.

A good Pashtun girl shows no interest in the man she is about to marry. If she's discovered to be in love, she can be killed. Or
I learned about this book through Poetry, which published a sizable excerpt from I Am the Beggar of the World in its June 2013 issue. At times during the past couple of years, I have wondered whether Poetry has been supplanted by other literary journals as the foremost magazine about verse in America, and whether I should therefore cease renewing my subscription. At such times, I reread some of the best pieces that Poetry has published in recent years, such as the excerpt from I Am the Beggar of ...more
Apr 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poems-and-prose
I'd recommend this to everyone
Leanne Ellul
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An outstanding book. These poems are incisive because they are pure; they are sang/written out of experiences that are truer to any Afghan women more than anyone else. These poems unveil some harsh truths; in their conciseness they make us analyse a situation we may be not accustomed to, they make us analyse the word and the world. The impressions these poems leave reverb lasting implications. This isn't my first and last read, for sure. ...more
Alex Linschoten
Apr 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Strongly recommend picking up a copy of ‘I am a Beggar of the World’, this edited collection of Pashto landays. Afghanistan finds substantive representation in these pithy & epithetic lines.
Jul 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Kaion by: Poetry Magazine
Shelves: poetry, world
Can't wait after reading Griswold's wonderful feature on landays in the June issue of Poetry Magazine:
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Stunning and heartbreaking sums this one up for me. I had not heard of landays, a traditional Afghan style of poetry, prior to this book, nor of the young Afghan teen who was beaten by her brothers after they discovered her writing poems. She set herself on fire in protest of being forbidden to write poetry and died shortly afterwards. The history and explanations, along with the photographs, that accompany many of the poems in this collection, bring the pieces and the pain to life. This is why ...more
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful and informative. One of the best poetry collections I've read this year.
Brittany Picardi Ruiz
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
In my dream, I am the president.
When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.

This is a landay, an oral two-lined folk poem composed and sung by Afghanis. Consisting of twenty-two syllables—nine in the first line, and thirteen in the second—the poems usually do not rhyme, but in Eliza Griswold’s translations they often do, to add more zing to the English versions. The above landay, which provides the title phrase for this fascinating volume, gains even more poignancy when we know the circumstances
Aug 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
This book is part photo-essay, part pop sociology/anthropology (if there is such a thing), and part a collection of poems. Eliza Griswold went to Afghanistan and spoke to many Pashtun women to gather these landays--anonymous oral folk couplets that get passed around through conversation and (now) over telephone lines and the internet, that can be sung for generations, that get shifted and altered and changed as women pick and choose which ones to sing or recite when and what words to alter in th ...more
May 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a short book, made even shorter by the numerous photographs within its pages and the fact that much of the book is taken up with short, two line poems called Landays, often just one to a page and never more than five. There is a short section introducing landays, Afghanistan and women within Afghanistan, as well as an occasional short page commenting on some of the landays. This shortness is good, because once I started it I did not want to put it down until I had finished it.

Landays ar
Apr 17, 2016 rated it liked it
It was interesting to read this collection of poems for many reasons, firstly this is a poetic form which I had no knowledge of so it was a good exposure to something new. Secondly, and most significantly this book opened me up to a whole society who I knew little about. Other than in the odd novel and the snapshots of Afghanistan published in the news this is a country which is largely beyond my radar and I have to say most of what I know is based upon war or the men.

This collection, and the j
Tricia Madden
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The landays and stories of women who wrote them are powerful and important. I went to a reading by the author and was so moved after hearing what lengths women in Afghanistan go to in order to share the poems, often risking their lives. Their stories show how the human spirit triumphs when oppressed. Hearing what these young girls have to say makes a huge case for funding schools for girls in Afghanistan.
Jun 19, 2014 rated it liked it
The book was interesting, but seemed to serve more the author and translator's purposes than to share landay poems with the world. I respect that the author wished to include only those landays that could be rendered as authentically as possible, but I was still disappointed by the scarcity of actual poems.
Feb 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book took me to my childhood with my grandma and cousins in our homeland Afghanistan. I do remember some of these Landay sung by my grandma and cousins.
Maha A
Dec 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really liked this!
God help all Afghani women...


When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to other.
Wendelle So
Interesting introduction to Afghan landays, which I've never heard of before: short couplet poems through which Afghan women, often uneducated by their society, find expression, remix landays from older times, pass it around their social circles, readapting older landays with their words to fit their particular situation and concerns. The poems featured here are about love and longing, the second-class status suffered by women in a patriarchal society, despair at their lack of freedom to control ...more
Esa Khairina
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was heartwrenching and, at the same time, uplifting to read this book. I hate how unfair and unkind this world can be to Pashtun women (Griswold provided short explanation for most of the landays), and astounded by how they, even in the darkest time, find their solace in words. Props to Griswold for all her effort in gathering these landays and translating it so gracefully that it doesn't lose its sense of Afghani. Props to Murphy for the powerful photographs. Such a brilliant work.

Another hi
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a really fascinating collection of Afghani Landays, or traditional poems, spoken aloud by women that cover the realm of their existence - everything from love, to loss, to war. Throughout the book, the author tells stories about her own experience collecting the Landays in face-to-face meetings with the women, as well as provides historical and cultural context for many of the landays. Overall, I really enjoyed the collection and found it enlightening.
Amanda (Books, Life and Everything Nice)
I Am the Beggar of the World is a collection of landays translated into English. Landays are oral poems that are mostly spoken in secret and anonymously. If the author is the landay is anonymous, then no one who speaks it can get in trouble in their strict culture. Although oral history is usually informal there is a structure to these landays. Poetry is revered in Afghanistan and these landays are an example of their importance and talent.
Sep 07, 2017 rated it liked it
I have a hard time reading poetry in general, but I am challenging myself to keep trying. This was really interesting to read poetry translated from another language/country. The poetry and descriptions of everyday Afghans in this book is beautiful and evocative. Their lives are hard, but they find meaning in it all.
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a book of Afghan poetry, both traditional and modern, with commentary from the author explaining the various references and forms. The poems are interspersed with photographs of the communities where the poems were written. Although some of the poems were a bit riske, I thought this provided a good introduction to a side of Afghan culture that is rarely seen in the West.
Roxanne Russell
Aug 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
This collection gave me a very personal look into the minds and culture of Pashtun women- a welcome enlightenment through poetry and photography.
"When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters."
"My darling, you are just like America!
You are guilty; I apologize."
"My body belongs to me.
To others its mastery."
Doris Gourbere
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
There would be little understanding of the Afghan people -especially the women- if it weren't for these landays. Such a wonderful and brave project.

"In my dream, I am the president.
When I awake, I am the beggar of the world."

"Separation, you set fire
in the heart and home of every lover."
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