Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ali and Nino: the book and the café

In the middle of Baku, close to the Fountain square, there is a small café called “Ali and Nino”. An acquaintance that brought me there was excited about finding a nice place to eat for a very reasonable price (and the lunch priced at 5 AZN,around $6, for two course meal is indeed a good price) but as conversation progressed and I asked about the name of the cafe, she exclaimed, “What? You don’t know? There is a very famous novel “Ali and Nino” that was written by the author from Baku”. I filed this information and later returned to the cafe to chat with a staff, buy the book, and do some photos. And that is what I discovered. “Ali and Nino” is the chain of book stores that was founded in 2007. Now it has four stores and two Book cafés; all of them held literature events, book discussions, concerts and meetings with various remarkable people.

The café at Tagijeva Street was designed as an illustration to the “Ali and Nino” novel. As the book is set in Baku during turbulent years surrounding the Bolshevik’s Revolution, the furniture and decor confirms to the style of that time. It is easy to imagine the main characters, Ali and Nino, either living here or at least dropping by. An array of black and white photos transfers the first floor to a family room; a sofa, half hidden by curtains, a bird cage, sitting atop of an old armoire and a pier glass create an atmosphere of a boudoir or a sitting room on the second. A painting on the first floor tells visitors the saga of the young married couple, Ali and Nino.

Second floor of the cafe.

Painting on the wall; photo by Vacheslav Sapunov

Painting on the wall; photo by Vacheslav Sapunov

I should say a few words about the book, shouldn’t I?

So, Ali and Nino: A Love Story by Kurban Said.It brought "Romeo and Juiliet" to my mind as well as "Doctor Zhivago". It is a love story of two young people with a very different background: Ali a Muslim from Baku and Nino - a young girl from Christian Georgia, who tried to keep their love intact while the world around them caught fire of the Russian Revolution and crumbled into pieces.

As a glimpse into traditions of Muslim society, its understanding of honour and duty, it is fascinating. As a description of continual give-and-take dance of the young married couple, who had to let go of many trappings of their upbringings, it is utmost engaging. What attracts me the most is that in a nutshell it is about a struggle between Asia and Europe, or old and new at the rise of the new xx century. For me personally this particular time in history holds immense attraction. Everything and everyone found themselves on the cusp, balancing above the abyss. Things that were familiar seized to exist, traditions were swept aside, and some saw it as a beginning of the end whiles others - as a new beginning. This novel certainly captures the air of uncertainty, a rollercoaster of hope and despair prevailing at that time.

* Bookcafes "Ali and Nino" Tagieva Str. 16/18; Nizami 91