As you may know I’m working towards my goal of reading literature from every country. I’m not going in any particular order – I find that I become fascinated with certain countries/regions almost randomly, or sometimes because of external influences, but certainly not in alphabetical order.
My current focus is Azerbaijan. When I started, I knew nothing about this small former soviet republic. In case you know as much as I did when I started, it is located in the Caucus region and it’s borders include Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran and the Caspian Sea. And, although I’m by no means an expert, I feel like I have learned SO much. All thanks to one book in particular – Ali and Nino.
This fictional love story is set in pre-war (WW1) Azerbaijan and tells the tale of a Muslim man who falls in love with a Christian woman. Through their courting, marriage and continued relationship, the reader gets an intimate look at so many struggles that define what it means to be Azeri – Islam vs Christianity, (and not just Islam, but Sunni vs Shi’ite) East vs West, old vs new, tradition vs modernity…..
What made this book so wonderful for me was how much I learned about the cultures of the region, without feeling like I was being taught anything. The struggles that the two characters go through in their own relationship are inherently cultural. And through those struggles we get glimpses into real life in pre-war Baku. By getting to know and care about the characters and their daily lives and struggles, you get a better appreciation for the bigger picture. I’ve begun reading my next book, Azerbaijan Diary, by reporter Thomas Goltz, and I can’t imagine reading it without first gaining an emotional sense of the place from Ali and Nino.
Ali and Nino is exactly why I love reading books from around the world. I hope I can find equally fascinating, enlightening and education books from other countries as well!