Sunday, November 15, 2009

124 (2009 #49). Ali and Nino

by Kurban Said,
translated by Jenia Graman

Originally written in German and published in 1937, Ali and Nino was out of print for decades and rediscovered and translated into English in 1970. It is set during the Russian Revolution and World War I, mostly in Baku in Azerbaijan, in the Trans-Caucasus area south of Russia and Georgia and north of Iran (then Persia), and between Armenia on the west and the Caspian Sea on the east. Ali is an aristocratic Shiite Muslim, Nino is a Georgian Christian princess, and they fall in love. Subtitled (in some editions) “A Love Story,” it does remind one a bit of Romeo and Juliet, particularly because of another sad ending.

I thought the way Ali's and Nino's personal stories reflected the clashing cultures (male and female, East and West, Asia and Europe, Muslim and Christian, desert and forest, tradition and modernity) of their homeland was fascinating. The book has been described as the national novel of Azerbaijan, inspiring a chain of bookstore/cafes and a historical walking tour of Baku.

I also thought the unclear authorship of the book was intriguing - the kind of thing that makes me want to research all the databases I have access to! Kurban Said is a pseudonym. Was the book really written by the Baroness , The Orientalist, both of them, or someone else?

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