I don’t know much about Azerbaijan. Or Armenia. Or Georgia. I know they’re in a part of the world Alexander the Great trundled over. I know the USSR had control for a while. I know there are some Muslims, and some Christians there. That’s it.
So picking up “Ali and Nino,” I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea I was about to be transported to a desert on the other side of the earth, where a culture completely alien–and far harsher–than my own was the ordinary standard.
The time, the place, the people: these are magnificently evoked by the writer (or writers, as some say). A young man and a woman are in love. It’s a basic story told the world over. And, just as in every culture there are matches deemed questionable by the culture and the mores of the time, in this one there is also a shot at a Romeo and Juliet: the girl is Christian, the boy is Muslim.
The love story is the abiding thread, the touchstone of the novel. Everything else is in flux. The cultures, the shifting array of government an allegiance. The religions are different in each place, the similarities between people deceive, and the most dangerous place can be the safest at the same time.
At the core of the novel is the idea of home. Home is the place you know, the place where you understand what is happening and why. And as history turns, home is what is lost. Home is what changes on you, until you cannot recognize it; until you must change or die.