Back in 2011, I was proposed to on a Georgian Black Sea beach next to an enormous modern 7 meter statue of a man and woman locally called the Statue of Love. This statue took 10 months to construct and was designed by a local artist. It depicts a man and woman and rotates in such a way (after 7pm) that the couple moves towards each other slowly and every ten minutes or so they come together to merge into one piece. Coloured light is also reflected on it so the couple changes colour as well.
Despite how modern this piece of art is, it is actually based on a novel written in 1937 by an author (still under debate who the author is) with the pen name Kurban Said called Ali and Nino that is considered a great epic romantic love story. At the time of my own romantic beach-side and statue-side proposal (my husband did not mention this significant and most romantic background-typical man!) I had no idea of the inspiration behind the statue despite my husband’s pre-proposal speech during a toast that now makes a lot more sense. So, several weeks ago when I came across this novel on the internet, I hurried to check if the local library had a translated version of this novel. Shortly after, I had it in my hands.
In short, the novel is about the romance between Ali (an Azerbaijani Muslim boy) and Nino (a Christian Georgian girl) that takes place primarily in Baku in the turbulent years around 1917. It also explores the clash of east and west, men and women, modern and traditional and more. Naturally, I found it very interesting to read this book and loved to see how the region was depicted at the time. The Caucasus region, I believe, is very special and although today it may not be center stage, it was where Asian and Europe met. It was an early melting pot that even now has various influences but at the same time each group in the region also maintained a distinct identity. Georgia, in the region, has always been considered the most “European” and still is…but for today’s Europeans, it is far from “European”. This sentiment of Nino and Georgia being depicted as more European is also reflected in this novel.
I do not want to get into analysis of the book and how Ali has to come to terms with changing times, how love can help one rise above hatred and ideology, and all that but I did enjoy the novel as it gives me more context on the region and why things are they way there are even today-particularly in Georgia. I love it when films or novels can do this. Although the book is considered Azerbaijan’s national book, I think most Georgians would be very satisfied with the depiction of Georgia and Georgians for the most part.There are many references to Georgian women being the most beautiful and lovely in the world. I had to include some interesting quotes below. There were many interesting quotes that I got a kick out of (especially the older generation in the novel giving their thoughts about women) but am just sticking to the Georgian ones for this post. Armenians do get a bit bashed in this novel, though! Here are the quotes:
No other Eastern race has this charm, these graceful movements, this fantastic lust for life and healthy enjoyment of leisure. –This is what Ali thinks when he visits Nino’s family in Georgia and he is overwhelmed with their hospitality and cannot keep up with their heavy celebrating. I definitely noticed-and appreciated this-about Georgia and Georgians and this very joi de livre is what attracted me to my husband as I have mentioned in the past. But, I wonder how this will be kept up as times change in Georgia.
- He stretched himself and yawned happily: “It is beautiful,” he said, “this is our country. The sulphur and the town, the war and Kachetian wine. Look at the Alasan flowing across the plain! It is wonderful to be a Georgian, even if Georgia perishes. You sound hopeless. But has it ever been otherwise in the Land of Tamar? And yet our rivers run, our vine grows, our people dance. It is a fair country, this our Georgia. And so it will remain, for all its hopelessness.”…. The bearded one in the corner smiled delightedly: “By God, as long as we have young people like that…” –Ali heard this conversation between Georgians. Georgia has had a tough history. This attitude by the people, I think, despite all the challenges the country has faced, still exists and has kept this culture so alive even today.
Armenian peddlers, Kurdish fortune-tellers, Persian cooks, Ossetian priests, Russians, Arabs, Ingush, Indians: all the people of Asia meet in the bazaar of Tiflis. –Ali’s thoughts on his visit to Tbilisi. There are definitely a lot of other influences in Georgia which is what keeps things interesting-but also it has its own unique culture.
Not only was the setting of the book interesting to me but I also enjoyed the exploration of a cross cultural relationship as well. Even though these two grew up together in the same town and understood each other’s culture in general, marriage changes everything! Living one another’s culture is different than just being aware of it. I feel, even reflecting on my own cross cultural relationship, I can relate.
The great news is that a British screenwriter is putting together a movie script based on this novel sometime this year that will be produced by the Azerbaijan President’s daughter. I definitely look forward to that!