Summer 2004 (12.2)
of Ali and Nino - It's Our World too!
by Betty Blair
articles related to Ali and Nino:
Inside the Soul of a Caucasian Elin Suleymanov (AI
City Tour: Ali and Nino Walking Tour - Fuad Akhundov and
Betty Blair (AI 12.2)
Essay: Then & Now: Baku 100 Years Ago at the Peak of Oil
Baron Period - (AI 12.2)
How to Collect Kurban Said's Novel Ali and Nino Betty
Blair (AI 12.3)
and Nino Covers: Novel is Published in 25 Languages
Betty Blair (AI 12.3)
6 Coming: Ali & Nino: Collecting Books - Azerbaijani Novel
Published in 25 Languages - Blair (AI 12.3)
to Editor: Copyright by Leela Ehrenfels (AI 12.4)
Oil Show time again in Baku - the 11th Annual Caspian Oil and
Gas Exhibition. And once again, we've tried to produce a magazine
that would provide visitors with a glimpse of what Baku is all
about. In this Summer issue, we've published the "Ali
& Nino Walking Tour", brainchild of Fuad Akhundov,
who has done more than anyone else in this city to popularize
the history of the Oil Baron period with tours of its architectural
treasures. The tour, which takes about three hours, wonders through
the Old City (Ichari Shahar) and down some of the most prestigious
and architecturally intriguing streets of Baku. We think it's
one of the best ways to get an introduction to the beauty, magnificence
and opulence of the city's architecture of the Oil Boom era.
But this Walking Tour is designed to do more than that.
Based on the novel, "Ali
& Nino: A Love Story," the book was originally published
in 1937, faraway from Azerbaijan (Austria), in a foreign language
(German), by someone who felt the necessity to disguise his true
identity with the pen name Gurban Sayid [Kurban Said]. Some claim
the author was Leo Nussimbaum; others, Yusif Vazir Chamanzaminli.
In 1971 Random House brought out the English version of "Ali
& Nino" for the first time. The following year, Life
Magazine acknowledged its popularity by noting: "If Gurban
Sayid can't push Erich Segal [author of "Jonathan Livingstone
Seagull"] off the bestseller list, nobody can!"
Left: It's our world too! Photo by Meg Hayes of Portland,
Oregon, who was on a medical assignment in Baku.
Most of the story takes place in Baku within a perimeter of a
few kilometers. The plot is simple: two young people have fallen
madly in love - the guy, an Azerbaijani aristocrat; the girl,
a Georgian princess. Ali comes from a traditional Muslim background;
Nino, from a more Europeanized progressive outlook and of Christian
tradition. Both are extremely conscious of their differences
- both in their own personal belief system and from society's
expectations. In fact, much of the book is spent elaborating
on these problems. But both Ali and Nino, either out of optimism
or, perhaps, naivete, keep hoping that their love will be strong
enough to bridge the enormous gaps of their traditions, practices
and beliefs. To further complicate the plot, the novel is set
in turbulent, uncertain times (around 1917-1918) which, in reality,
turns out to be the eve of the Bolshevik takeover of Baku that
led to the Soviet occupation of Azerbaijan for more than 70 years
About 20 years passed between the time when the actual political
and historical events of the story took place and when the book
was published. This gave the author, who himself was living in
exile, time to reflect upon his world that had been turned upside
down. But the political situation had not quieted down. Europe
was on the verge of World War II. The Soviet Union was at the
height of Stalin's repression when many intellectuals went to
bed wearing their street clothes for fear of a sudden dreaded
knock at the door in the middle of the night. The future could
not have looked more bleak.
"Ali & Nino" is so full of personal reflection
and political analysis and reads so true, that you constantly
have to remind yourself that it's a novel, not a journal. In
truth, it reads more like a docu-drama begging for cinematic
The book has been touted as more useful than any guidebook or
academic text for truly understanding the soul of the Caucasus
(Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia) of the early 20th century,
pre-Soviet period. Some would claim that "Ali & Nino"
is a treatise about the basic differences between East and West,
tradition and modernism, race and religion. We would suggest
that the issues run much deeper. And more significantly, the
issues are extremely relevant to the explosive political situation
that we as members of the world community find ourselves in today.
Over and over again, the author pounds away at the main issues:
"What will happen to us? What will happen to our country?"
And now 80 years after the events of the story, the author, by
implication, demands of us: "And what will happen to our
world?" How are we to synthesize all the conflicting beliefs
and contradictions? How can we find creative ways to live side
by side in friendship, justice and truth? For as the novel so
poignoitly concludes: to fail to find the solution to this issue
is as deadly today as it was for Ali, whose body was found riddled
with eight bullets as he fell from the bridge in Ganja cradling
his submachine defending his own country.
For readers, who are serious about understanding this historical
period, and this particular geographical location, or who are
just interested in a fast-moving , delicious love story, we highly
recommend "Ali & Nino" for summer reading. If you're
in Baku, we hope you'll find time to meander the streets, take
photos and give a physical context to these dramatic, soul-searching
"Ali & Nino" is a book that makes you think long
after you close the last page. Its issues take you far beyond
the narrow winding streets of Baku's Old City to a world hungry
for viable solutions.
"Ali & Nino: A Love Story" (Anchor Books, 2000,
284 pages, ISBN 0-385-72040-8) is available from Azerbaijan International's
office (994-12) 498-9353 (in English, Azeri or Russian) in Baku
or from our Web site Store-
AZER.com - or from major book chains on the Internet.
From Azerbaijan International
International 2004. All rights reserved.
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