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Tom Reiss first came across Nussimbaum when he went to the ex-USSR to research Russia s oil reserves, and discovered a novel instead. Written on the eve of the Second World War, Ali and Nino is a captivating love story set in the glamorous city of Baku, Azerbaijan s capital. The novel s depiction of a lost cosmopolitan society is enthralling, but equally intriguing is the identity of the man who wrote it. Who was Kurban Said, its supposed author? And why did he and his book fade into obscurity? For five years, Reiss tracked Said s protean identity from a wealthy Jewish childhood in Baku, to a romantic adolescence in Persia on the run from the Bolsheviks, and an exile in Berlin as bestselling author and self-proclaimed Muslim prince. The result is a thoroughly unexpected picture of the twentieth-century of the origins of our ideas about race and religious self-definition, and of the roots of modern fanaticism.
Tom Reiss has written about politics and culture in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. He lives in New York.