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Who wrote Azerbaijan's most famous novel?
Confusion has long surrounded the authorship of love story Ali and Nino, set in Azerbaijan during the turbulent end of the Russian Empire.
Betty Blair, editor of Azerbaijan International magazine, today presented a major piece of research that shows that Azerbaijani writer Yusif Vazirov, who often wrote under the pen name Yusif Chamanzaminli, was the core author of the novel.
Other authors were also involved. Lev Nussimbaum, who used the pen name Essad Bey, gained access to the manuscript and embellished the story line. He also incorporated travel passages about Georgia and Persia from a third author, Georgian Grigol Robakidze.
Ali and Nino was first published in German in Vienna in 1937 under the pseudonym Kurban Said. A fourth author may even have been involved, as Austrian Baroness Elfriede Ehrenfels registered the book and pseudonym with government officials in Austria.
Betty Blair and Azerbaijan International's young team trawled archives and interviewed descendants of the authors from Baku to Los Angeles, via Istanbul and an Austrian castle, to find out who was really behind the name Kurban Said.
They have published their research in a bumper, 364-page, edition of Azerbaijan International magazine entitled "Ali & Nino. The Business of Literature" with the subheading "Who wrote Azerbaijan's most famous novel?" Separate versions are available in Azerbaijani and English.
"Our research convinces us that the core, original writer of Ali and Nino is Yusif Vazir Chamanzaminli," Betty Blair writes in a Frequently Asked Questions section in the publication. "The story and its concerns are essentially his. Simply, there are too many links between Chamanzaminli and Ali and Nino to explain as being merely circumstantial. Irrefutable evidence points directly to Chamanzaminli as the core writer."
"The issues expressed in Ali and Nino were an integral part of Chamanzaminli's way of thinking. The same cannot be said about Essad Bey," Betty Blair says.
The research contradicts the findings of US journalist Tom Reiss who attributed Ali and Nino entirely to Essad Bey/Lev Nussimbaum in his book "The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life".
Mystery still surrounds aspects of the publication of Ali and Nino, Betty Blair acknowledges.
The original language in which Ali and Nino was written remains uncertain. Chamanzaminli always wrote his novels in Azeri and some he translated into Russian. Essad Bey wrote his literary works in German and knew Russian.
It is not known whether Vazirov/Chamanzaminli met Essad Bey or knew about the 1937 publication of Ali and Nino.
Chamanzaminli served as ambassador in Istanbul in 1918-19 for the short-lived Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. He then lived in France, and after his brother died in Paris in 1926, Vazirov/Chamanzaminli returned to Baku, now in Soviet Azerbaijan. He may have met Essad Bey while in Europe and is known to have passed through Vienna on his return to Baku. Yusif Vazirov/Chamanzaminli died in a Soviet labour camp in 1943, having been accused of counter-revolutionary ideas in his work.
Whoever the author, Ali and Nino is a moving novel and memorable description of Azerbaijan as it sought independence and freedom in the dying days of the Russian Empire.
Ali and Nino is available in English and has been published in 33 languages, the most recent being Albanian.
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