Ali and Nino is a romance story told through the eyes of Muslim Ali who falls in love with Christian Nino. While they both live (and as far as I could tell) were born in Azerbaijan, Nino’s family comes from Georgia and draws a lot of influences from European culture. Ali and his family draws more heavily from Asian and especially Middle-Eastern culture. The books therefore work on two levels. On one level, it shows how divided Azerbaijan can feel, situated between Europe and Asia and not really knowing which cultures it leans more towards. It becomes a symbol for how divided the country can feel, and about the strong emotions that exist there: Europe vs. Asia. Christian vs. Muslim. Progress vs. Progress. Wood vs. Desert. On another level, it’s a plain love story about how two young people handle being in a mixed faith (and in part mixed culture) relationship. Especially when there is a war coming.
“Maybe that is the one real division between men: wood men and desert men.”
Did I mention the war? The story is set during WWI, when Azerbaijan fought for independence and became the third democratic country in the Muslim-world, to then be “incorporated” in the Soviet Union. This is an amazing setting to place a story, but in the end an amazing setting doesn’t really matter when it comes to a love story. It all comes down to the two main characters.
The story is told through Ali and it starts when he is 19. This is one of the things I struggled with in the beginning as he isn’t really a very reflected 19-year-old (in that regard I did read him as a very typical 19-year-old). When Nino opens-up to him about her worries about beginning in a relationship with him considering the social and legal rules put on women, and he just scoffs it offs I did become scared for Nino’s sake. It also bothered me that she wasn’t really a character for the first part of the book, just someone Ali loved. I do believe he loves her and that he has always loved her, and I don’t really think it’s puppy-dog love or anything, but I do wish we would have shown more about why he loves her. When she opens-up and becomes more of a character it seems just as a surprise to him as us the reader.
“Close your eyes, cover your ears with your hands and open your soul.”
Despite this, I did grow fond of both Ali and Nino. Especially as a couple. Going through what they went through, not just because of them as a couple, but also due to what was happening around them, can’t have been easy. I thought Kurban did a good job in showing people in a specific culture acting according to who they were. I also enjoyed learning more about Azerbaijan and it’s culture as a country set in the middle of East and West.