Kurban Said's Ali and Nino sat on the shelf for a while. Other books came in, were devoured, and stacked for adding to our miniscule library. It was, I confess, added to the shelf because of its smoochy/swoony reviews and the fact that I was reading a biography of the author, never having heard of the book itself until I had begun the biography.
Since I am past the "smoochy/swoony" stage of my own life, I was cautious but hopeful. The story began in Baku prior to WWI and followed Ali, a young Muslim of high estate as he fell in love in with Nino, a Georgian princess who attended the nearby girl's school. The love story is both about the relationship between the two and about Ali's love for Baku and the careful balance that both made it possible and that bit into his own identity.
Was it a beautiful love story? I don't know. That part of the story and the alien culture to which both Ali and Nino belonged made it difficult for me to find my way into the story. Ali tells the story, sometimes obliquely, in terms of generalizations of temperment and culture with which it was challenging for me to empathize. Nino feels like a culture unto herself at times rather than a person.
Despite these places were I slipped over the surface without sinking into the heart of the story, Ali's elegy for a place that used to be reasonable, safe, and welcoming proved to be the love story that I found most compelling. Without Baku, there could be no successful relationship with Nino and therefore, no place for Ali.
By the end, it was a heartbreaking indictment of the constant struggle for these places in which we can exist, coexist, and flourish.