Ali & Nino - Kurban Said
Doug and Robyn have both posted about this book already, so I'll skip the plot summary. I will confess that for much of the book I was very lost geographically and culturally; it was easy for me to see the European/Asian distinctions, but I was lost when it came to figuring out all the participants in the war. How many sides are there? Are the Turks with the Russians, or the Armenians? I would attribute this partly to my weakness in social studies and partly to the fact that I've also read several other books mixed in with Ali & Nino in the meantime.

Something I found almost as fascinating as the book itself was the story behind its publication, rediscovery, and the mystery of its authorship. According to a little article at the back of the copy we had, Kurban Said was a pen name for Baroness Elfriede Ehrenfels and Lev Nussimbaum, later known as Essad Bey. Ehrenfels was from an elite Austrian family, and Bey was a Jew born in Baku who later converted to Islam. In that case, the love story between the Georgian Nino and Azeri Ali was probably inspired by Ehrenfels and Bey's own friendship. (The article linked above also makes a case for Bey being the sole author.)

The pull between two cultures is one I have a personal interest in; being the product of two cultures (and now in a biracial marriage), I often have conflicting ideas about how things "should" be. I was surprised that Nino, after expressing how much she hated Persia and its different ways of behaving, wouldn't realize that Paris would be equally loathsome to Ali. I wondered how they would resolve this conflict—Nino obviously did not want to become Persian; would Ali become European? Was their marriage doomed from the start, or was there a way for them to understand each other? I felt both sympathy and disgust for Ali. On the one hand, the customs and beliefs he held were shocking and other, yet at the same time I felt he was being untrue to himself and his family by allowing Nino to break the rules of his culture (even though I personally disagreed with those rules).

Fed to jonathan's brain | May 11, 2003