My love is a suicide bomber

i am the beggar of the worldI am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan
compiled by Eliza Griswold and Seamus Murphy

This is a collection of landays, which are a traditional two-line Afghan poem mostly written/performed by women, many of whom are illiterate. Some are historical, some are modern, often reinterpretations of the old ones. The landay’s apparently simple form often hides great complexity – symbolism, history, politics and so much else.

“A landay [is] an oral and often anonymous scrap of song created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than 20 million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Traditionally, landays are sung aloud, often to the beat of a hand drum, which, along with other kinds of music, was banned by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, and in some places still is.”

These poems were collected by poet Eliza Griswold and photographer Seamus Murphy during two visits to Afghanistan in 2012 and 2013. Murphy’s photography from the trip alternates with the poems, along with short accounts from Griswold about the poem’s origin. She is credited as the book’s translator but in truth she doesn’t speak Pashto, so she worked with local translators and then used her own language skills to rework the poems into something that sounds like a poem in English. Though this makes the front cover and title page a little dishonest, Griswold makes up for this in her introduction by giving full credit to her translators, particularly Asma Safi, a Pashtun woman who risked her life by travelling with foreigners in Helmand province and sadly died of a heart condition before the book was completed.

“My love is a suicide bomber who stalks
the home of my heart and waits to attack.”

The poems themselves, and indeed Murphy’s photographs, are a mixed bag in the end. Some are beautiful, funny, moving or simply feel important. Others are none of those things. But for me what’s important most of all is the story behind the poems. In a region of the world where women’s rights are seriously curtailed, where even their traditional method of sharing poetry to music is banned by the Taliban, it is incredible that the poems remain central to so many women’s lives.

Published 2014 by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

Source: Christmas present.

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