The 1937 Club – Ali & Nino by Kurban Said

I did intend to read Eric Ambler’s Uncommon Danger for the 1937 Club, but it’s been so busy I’ve not managed to get started really, so instead I offer you a revamped review of a novel from that year that I read pre-blog and not previously featured.

Azerbaijan in the early 20th century was at the crossroads of civilisations, cultures and religions. Set against this backdrop at the start of WWI is this love story of Ali, a desert loving-Muslim, and Nino, a Christian Georgian princess who yearns to be more European. Theirs is a childhood romance that eventually blossoms fully and they marry despite many obstacles put in their way. However it finally becomes clear that Ali’s real love is for his country which can only lead to tragedy.

Ali and Nino is a rediscovered novel, published in Vienna in 1937. Written in German under the pseudonym ‘Kurban Said’, by Lev Nussimbaum who was an Azerbajani Jew who had escaped during the Russian Revolution and settled in Berlin. The book was then found and translated into English in the 1950s by Jenia Graman, who apparently found a copy on a second-hand book stall in Berlin.

It gives a fascinating glimpse of what life was like amongst the ruling classes in this cultural melting pot; neighbour to Persia, but stuck between the warring Turks and Russians. With derring-do, glamour, philosophy, and romance, this novel has everything, but ultimately failed to totally grab me – maybe because of Ali’s lack of ambition and liking of an easy life, until his patriotic awakening. It was a very good, but not quite brilliant read.

Source: Own copy. Vintage paperback, 240 pages.

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One thought on “The 1937 Club – Ali & Nino by Kurban Said

  1. Calmgrove says:

    Ooh, lovely, a 1937 title rooted in its time and with an interesting premise and distinctive characters.

    Interesting that ‘Kurban Said’ / Lev Nussimbaum, as an ex-pat Azerbajani Jew, was able to get this published in Vienna in 1937: after all, Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany early the next year.

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