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.
Pages: 288 (paperback)
Rating: 3 out of 10
I read Ali and Nino by Kurban Said for the April book club meeting of the short lived Seattle book club. At the time, I was not sure that I would finish. I forced myself to complete the book because I was facilitating. I found the book very hard to read. While the premise was interesting, I did not find it very engaging. One thing that I appreciated was the conflict that Ali felt as his feelings for Nino grew. In his culture, women are considered less than men. As he falls in love with Nino, he starts to view her as a person. Their relationship does not fit into the typical mold for a Muslim or a Christian marriage. Set against a backdrop of war, the main elements of the plot are predictable. However, the book offers insight into the cultural factors surrounding the Russian Revolution of 1917 and other factors of Baku.
This is the fourth book I completed for the Orbis Terrarum challenge.