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Ali and Nino by Kurban Said

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Within our modern day and, despite humanity's numerous advances in technology and culture, a great chasm still divides this world's two greatest heralders of cultural progression: the east and the west; the orient and the occident. Through his literary tour de force, Ali and Nino, Kurban Said beautifully illustrates the depth of this oriental versus occidental divide through a dramatic tale of two young lovers.

The story is set in the Azerbaijani capital city, Baku, at the fin de siè-cle. At this point in time, Baku was a prosperous, cosmopolitan metropolis, thriving off of the newly made fortunes and foreign investment of the oil industry. This city was a prime manifestation of the east-west rift, inhabited by a grand mélange of ethnicities and religions. Armenian merchants, Azerbaijani shopkeepers, Persian mullahs, Russian teachers, and English businessmen all called Baku home, creating a melting pot of different cultures and ways of life. It was into this volatile world of change that Ali Khan Shervanshir, son of a Persian aristocrat, and Nino Kipiani, daughter of a Georgian haute capitaliste were born.

The foundation of this story's plot is a vision concocted by the naïve, youthful intellects of our hero and heroine, Ali and Nino. Ali's vision is seemingly simplistic: complete his education at the Russian academy, marry his beloved Nino, and continue the life his ancestors have led for generations within the old city walls of Baku, immersed in the allure and mystery of the east. Nino has a similar, yet completely contradictory idea for her future: complete her education at the French Lyceum, marry Ali, and continue her family's transformation into modern, progressive Europeans. Ali's heart yearns for Asia, Nino's for Europe. To a degree, while these visions begin to materialize into reality, the unseen complexity and incompatibility of these two vastly different dreams were drowned out and muted by a seductive yet incomprehensible concept: love. The ethnical, religious, and political dimensions of their love create a multifaceted invisible barrier between these two individuals, leaving them madly in love yet strangely at unease with one another. Within this masterpiece, Said uses his main characters, Ali and Nino, as pawns not only to illustrate the hopelessly impenetrable yet endlessly compelling notion of love, but additionally to outline the polar opposites of eastern and western culture, and the impossibility of coalescing them. As opposed to traditional romance stories, Said's lovers are not held apart by foreign, external, forces, but by familiar, internal, ones: their origins, their blood. These inescapable internal forces will forever prevent perfect equilibrium between the two lovers, leaving them in a constant state of limbo, Baku, and the entire Caucasus region the center of the wild instability between these two contrasting ways of life.

Through this fictional work of art, Said dramatically captures the raw emotion of the clash between eastern and western culture through the eyes of two young lovers. Ali and Nino can be read through a multitude of different lenses, ranging from a light hearted romance to a political treatise. The story is beautifully woven through utilization of eloquent yet easily understandable prose, and simplistic yet profound plot twists, leaving the reader in the lurch, unable to put the book down, and then unable to forget the unbearable heartache of Ali, Nino, and an entire generation of individuals defined by this conflict.





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Shweta K. said...
Sept. 19, 2009 at 3:33 am
Wow I'm so jealous! This is such an intelligent, well-written and supported review. You really understood the themes and ideas of the book, and interested me as a reader. Very nice :)
 
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