There are four main characters in PROUD BEGGARS by Albert Cossery. The first three who know each other are Gohar a former university professor now drug addict who picks up money working in a brothel writing letters for the illiterate prostitutes and doing bookkeeping, Yeghen a poet and drug dealer with a very homely appearance, and El Kordi an incompetent clerk in a government office in love with a prostitute who is dying of tuberculosis and filled with revolutionary dreams.
What these first three share is a belief in a sort of a deliberate poverty – As a means of knowing peace, having a life that is maximized for leisure and enjoyment, and as form of rebellion against a system they dislike. They encounter Nour El Dine, the fourth main character a policeman with a secret of his own – he is a homosexual, after Gohar at the beginning of the book strangles a prostitute while under the throws of addiction.
I believe the idea based on his interactions with the three friends together and apart as well as the end is despite El Dine’s efforts in investigating the case underneath he is one of the proud beggars. I know the various scenes where he tries to find the real murderer by questioning the three main characters feels like Doestoevski’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT written by Moliere.
Cossery’s spare prose is so minimalist but still rich in expression. The little world he creates is easily visualized and the perfect characters that populate it you know immediately. In addition, his anti-materialism, his nonconformity is perfectly translated into a story. I wish this book was longer but Cossery knows the perfect length for a story. A great read. Shocking, emotional, funny, entertaining. Makes me want to give it all up and become a bum panhandling folks for spare change.
This book has similarities with the two books I’d read previously by Cossery. The attitude and antics of the characters are a bit like THE JOKERS and the setting is like MEN GOD FORGET. I wrote about them here http://rgdinmalaysia.blogspot.com/2012/05/men-god-forgot-and-jokers-by-albert.html What I wrote there goes double for PROUD BEGGARS.