Ali and Nino
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"Ali and Nino" Summary

By Kurban Said

fiction | 288 pages | Published in NaN

First published in Vienna in 1937, this classic story of romance and adventure has been compared to Dr. Zhivago and Romeo and Juliet.  Its mysterious author was recently the subject of a feature article in the New Yorker, which has inspired a forthcoming biography. Out of print for nearly three decades until the hardcover re-release last year, Ali and Nino is Kurban Said's masterpiece. It is a captivating novel as evocative of the exotic desert landscape as it is of the passion between two people pulled apart by culture, religion, and war.It is the eve of World War I in Baku, Azerbaijan, a city on the edge of the Caspian Sea, poised precariously between east and west.  Ali Khan Shirvanshir, a Muslim schoolboy from a proud, aristocratic family, has fallen in love with the beautiful and enigmatic Nino Kipiani, a Christian girl with distinctly European sensibilities.   To be together they must overcome blood feud and scandal, attempt a daring horseback rescue, and travel from the bustling street of oil-boom Baku, through starkly beautiful deserts and remote mountain villages, to the opulent palace of Ali's uncle in neighboring Persia.  Ultimately the lovers are drawn back to Baku, but when war threatens their future, Ali is forced to choose between his loyalty to the beliefs of his Asian ancestors and his profound devotion to Nino.  Combining the exotic fascination of a tale told by Scheherazade with the range and magnificence of an epic, Ali and Nino is a timeless classic of love in the face of war.


Estimated read time: 4 min read

One Sentence Summary

A young Azerbaijani Muslim and a Georgian Christian navigate love, war, and cultural differences in early 20th century Caucasus.


"Ali and Nino" is a captivating novel written by the pseudonymous author, Kurban Said. Set in early 20th century Azerbaijan, the story follows the love affair between Ali, a Muslim Azerbaijani, and Nino, a Christian Georgian princess. Against the backdrop of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, the novel explores themes of love, war, and cultural clash, making it a timeless and thought-provoking read.

Brief Synopsis

The novel is set in Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, at a time of great political and social change. Ali Khan Shirvanshir, the son of an Azerbaijani nobleman, falls in love with Nino Kipiani, a Georgian princess. Despite their different cultural backgrounds, they embark on a passionate and forbidden romance. As their love story unfolds, the First World War and the Russian Revolution threaten to tear them apart. The novel delves into the complexities of their relationship and the challenges they face in a rapidly changing world.

Main Events

The story unfolds in several key events that shape the lives of the main characters and the world around them:

Ali and Nino's First MeetingAli and Nino meet for the first time, sparking a deep connection despite their cultural differences.
World War IThe outbreak of World War I brings about significant changes in the political landscape, impacting the lives of Ali and Nino.
Russian RevolutionThe Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent Red Army invasion of Baku pose a threat to the couple's love and way of life.
Kidnapping of NinoNino is kidnapped by a Muslim extremist, leading to a dramatic rescue by Ali and his friends.
Escape to PersiaAli and Nino flee to Persia to seek refuge from the chaos and violence in Baku.

Main Characters

The novel features several main characters who play pivotal roles in the development of the story:

Ali Khan Shirvanshir

Ali, the protagonist, is a young Azerbaijani Muslim nobleman with a passion for literature and a deep love for Nino. He struggles to reconcile his traditional values with the changing world around him.

Nino Kipiani

Nino is a beautiful and intelligent Georgian princess who captures Ali's heart. Her independent spirit and strong will make her a captivating and enigmatic character.

Fatali Khan

Fatali Khan is Ali's close friend and mentor, providing guidance and wisdom during tumultuous times. He is a prominent figure in Baku's political and social scene.

Seyd Mustafa

Seyd Mustafa is Nino's cousin and a fervent Muslim nationalist. His actions have a significant impact on the course of events in the novel.

Themes and Insights

"Ali and Nino" delves into several compelling themes and offers thought-provoking insights:

Love and Cultural Clash

The novel explores the complexities of love across cultural and religious boundaries, shedding light on the challenges and conflicts that arise from such relationships.

War and Political Upheaval

Against the backdrop of World War I and the Russian Revolution, the novel portrays the profound impact of political turmoil on personal lives and relationships.

Tradition versus Modernity

Ali and Nino grapple with the clash between traditional values and the forces of modernity, reflecting the broader societal shifts taking place in Azerbaijan.

Reader's Takeaway

Readers of "Ali and Nino" are treated to a rich and evocative narrative that weaves together romance, history, and cultural exploration. The novel offers a poignant portrayal of love in the face of adversity and provides valuable insights into the complexities of identity and tradition.


"Ali and Nino" stands as a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers across generations. Through its vivid characters and sweeping narrative, the novel offers a compelling exploration of love, war, and cultural conflict, making it an essential read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of human relationships and the impact of historical events on personal lives.

Ali and Nino FAQ

  1. Who is the author of Ali and Nino?

    The author of Ali and Nino is Kurban Said, though the true identity of the author is still a subject of debate among scholars.

  2. What is the setting of Ali and Nino?

    The story is set in Baku, Azerbaijan, during the early 20th century, against the backdrop of World War I and the Russian Revolution.

  3. What genre does Ali and Nino belong to?

    Ali and Nino is a romantic novel, but it also encompasses elements of historical fiction and adventure.

  4. What is the main theme of Ali and Nino?

    The novel explores themes of love, cultural and religious differences, patriotism, and the impact of war on society.

  5. Is Ali and Nino based on a true story?

    Although the characters and events in the novel are fictional, the author drew inspiration from his own experiences and the historical context of Azerbaijan during that period.