Monday, May 17, 2004

When Two Worlds Collide

At book group tonight we discussed Ali and Nino by Kurban Said. Set in Azerbaijan at the time of the first world war, the novel is an examination of a time and place where cultures meet and collide. Centred around the carefully crafted device of the relationship between the Muslim Ali and the Georgian Christian Nino, the novel dissects the superficial and deep rooted issues that emerge at the point where East meets West.

With immense skill, the story transports the reader to Baku and the Caucasus region, where Asia and Europe meet. It’s a rare skill for a novel to evoke a time and place so lightly and yet so entirely, the comparison with the opening of Madame Bovary begs to be made.

The first time I read this book was around 5 years ago, pre 9/11 and the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Reading the book now is a significantly different experience. Back then the book seemed to be about a historical situation, now the resonance with current world events is uncanny. Even on a superficial level I realise that many of the place names referred to regarding the are so much more familiar now.

It’s a beautiful story that captured me both times I read it and it seems that the rest of the group were equally as enamoured.

It's also proved particularly poignant food for thought and our discussions both of the book and the subjects it raises continued out of the library and into the pub.

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