Love conquers all in Kurban Said’s (Lev Nussimbaum’s/Essad Bey’s) Ali and Nino. Ali is a Muslim from Azerbaijan and Nino is a Christian from Georgia. The book is set in Baku, right after the first World War. Except for the two dilemmas already mentioned, Baku is in the turbulence between East and West, until the country became part of the Soviet Union.
The author, even though disputed, seems to be Lev Nussimbaum, who also used the name Essad Bey, but wrote the book using the pseudonym Kurban Said. Does it really matter who wrote the book? Maybe for the ones who have the rights to the book, and get the royalties. The book is said to be the national novel of Azerbaijan, and it is often praised to be one of the big romance novels together with for example Gone with the Wind and Dr Zhivago.
Both Ali and Nino comes from respectable families, go to good schools, and can quite frankly be friends despite their different backgrounds. Ali however has decided he wants to marry Nino. Nino is a modern young woman looking to the West, and not feeling comfortable in the Middle East, where Ali feels at home away from home.
There are many interesting historical tensions in the book, besides the ones already mentioned. An Armenian man, whom Ali considered a friend, kidnaps Nino. After Ali catches the kidnapper the revenge is the harshest; he kills the kidnapper. According to tradition he should have killed Nino as well. Contradiction after contradiction. Ali ends up in Daghestan, because of the Armenian family’s vendetta. Armenia and Azerbaijan do not really have the best of relations, even today. Azerbaijan for example has not recognized the Armenian genocide in Turkey.
Ali however gets his Nino. They live in Asian and Muslim Persia, but once the Republic of Azerbaijan sees daylight, they return back home. Nino gets Ali a prestigious job in Paris, but he declines. Nino was unhappy in Persia, but Ali never even wanted to see if Paris would have brought them happiness. The ending is not the happiest.
I understand that the book is seen as one of the great love stories. I guess there are more books about love than about anything else, so it is not easy to be king of the hill in this particular genre. The setting is different from most other love stories, and the contradictions and dilemmas never seem to end. I find these larger than life difficulties being the crème de la crème of the story. Ali never lost faith in love even though there were more obstacles on their way than most of us can imagine.
Despite everything that happened in the book I still find the story behind Kurban Sad being far more interesting than the book itself. I have read up on the subject and I intend to read about it even more. There is something interesting about these “who is the author behind the book”, for example Shakespeare, not to mention Beowulf.