Look. I know I’m very, very behind. But I’m going to get back on track (i.e. desperately catch up on) with my Lent Project. If it kills me.
11. Ali and Nino: A Love Story by Kurban Said (AKA Essad Bey, AKA Lev Nussimbaum, etc.).
A really beautiful novel about a Muslim boy and a Christian girl who fall in love in the last days of Imperial Russia in Baku. The book first came to my attention when I read the extraordinary biography of the author, The Orientalist by Tom Reiss. Kurban Said was actually born Lev Nussimbaum, a Russian Jew, the son of a wealthy oil man in Azerbaijan. His mother was a suicide (and possibly a spy for Stalin, who also - perhaps - occupied the Nussimbaum’s house after the Revolution). He attended high school with the Nabokovs in Germany, converted to Islam (pretending to be a Persian prince). And wrote and wrote and wrote under various pseudonyms and identities.
Ali and Nino was first published in Vienna, in German, in 1937 under the name E.P. Tal Verlag, a pseudonym for a German Countess whose family still claims she is the author (really. you can’t make this stuff up.). Most people, however, believe that Said/Bey/Nussimbaum is the author, as it’s impossible to believe it was written by somebody who hasn’t spent substantial time in Baku. Bey fled to Italy when the Germans occupied Austria and died there in 1942 at the age of 37.
11/40 in my Literary Lent Series