The passionate story of the love between a Muslim boy and a Christian girl - a gripping, romantic novel set during Azerbaijan's fight for independence
For a long time the identity of the author who used the pseudonym 'Kurban Said' to write Ali and Nino, published in Vienna in 1937, has been surrounded by controversy. Was it possible that the Austrian countess who signed the original publishing contract, Baroness Elfriede Ehrenfels, could have written a novel that displays such extraordinary insight into the atmosphere of pre-First World War Baku and intimate knowledge of Muslim culture? Recent research seems to prove, once and for all, that her friend Lev Nussimbaum, a Jew who had escaped Azerbaijan during the Russian Revolution and settled in Berlin, was the real 'Kurban Said'. Born in Baku in 1905, Nussimbaum had a passion for the Orient, and in his youth, converted to Islam. A flamboyant in the literary world of 1920s Berlin, he fled from Nazi Germany to Austria. Having then gone on to Italy, he ended up under house arrest in Positano, where he died of a rare blood disease in 1942. The outbreak of the Second World War could easily have meant that Ali and Nino was never discovered by an English-speaking audience. In the 1950s, however, Jenia Graman, a German who had settled in England during the war, found a copy on a Berlin bookstall, translated it into English, and had it published for a second time.
First published in 1937 and issued in the U.S. by Random House in 1970, Said's romantic tale of young love and political upheaval in Central Asia calls for violins and handkerchiefs. Set mostly in Azerbaijan during WWI and the Russian Revolution, this captivating novel is a cinematic, at times melodramatic, mix of romance and wartime adventure. Its hero, narrator Ali Khan Shirvanshir, a Tartar and Shi'ite Muslim, flouts social convention by marrying his childhood friend, Nino Kipiani, a fair-skinned Georgian Christian. Ali rebels against a tradition-bound, male-chauvinist society typified by his father's pre-wedding advice: "Do not beat her when she is pregnant." When war erupts, Nino, ensconced in a villa in Tehran, keeps her pregnancy by Ali a secret as long as she can. Their marriage is a union of Western and Eastern sensibilities. Nino is unhappy in Persia, but Ali is reluctant to accompany her to Paris, where she flees with their infant daughter as Ali marches off to defend the short-lived Azerbaijani republic against the invading Red Army. Said (1905-1942) was born Lev Naussimbaum in Baku, the son of a German governess and a Jewish businessman. He combines starkly realistic depictions of war with colorful tableaux‘wild dances, an oral poetry competition, desert camels, a meddlesome eunuch. A saga of war and love and the difficult marriage of Europe and Asia in the Caucasus, this is at heart a rousing, old-fashioned, tear-jerking love story. (July)
Little is actually known about this author except that he wrote this one and only book in Vienna in 1937 though he was not Austrian. He left Austria for Italy soon after and died there, of unknown causes. The book tells of the love between the title characters, which is challenged by the political upheaval of both World War I and the Russian Revolution. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
"Its beauty and power and the sheer pleasure that it gives are indestructible" * Sunday Times *
"Poignant and beautiful...alive with a vividly unique vision of colliding cultures and enduring love" * The Times *
"A blazing masterpiece... I cannot think of so moving a love story in modern fiction" * Washington Star *
"One feels as if one had dug up buried treasure...an epic cultural change that seems more immediate than this morning's headlines... An extraordinary novel" * New York Times *
"A beautiful novel" -- Paul Theroux