Jblog Book Club

A place for discussing interesting books, including those on Judaism, parenting, and general fiction and non-fiction.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

History and Humor

I'm reading The Orientalist, by Tom Reiss. By Chapter Seven and our hero has already been to Baku, Georgia, Constantinople, Paris, Berlin, and some places I've forgotten. As the hero approaches each new venue the author treats us to a political history of the country and its place in the region. And this is a true story.

Lev Nussimbaum was born in 1905 in Baku, Azerbaijan to an oil magnate and revolutionary. Despite his Jewish heritage he reinvented himself as a Muslim prince, and became a famous writer and personality under the pen names Essad Bey and Kurban Said. Very little was known about his childhood, and Reiss' research led to some fascinating discoveries. In his novels, Nussimbaum told some fantastic tales about his travels. Some of the stranger ones turned out to be true. Reiss takes care to show the role of the Jews in the political upheaval of the time, without neglecting the fate of other minorities such as the Armenians. A lot of the history was quite new to me (yes, I had heard about the Armenian massacre, but not about the Helenendorf Germans).

I've read about three short novels since beginning The Orientalist, as it's not the kind of book you can read a page here and there. However, the writing is smooth and so full of action and humorous anecdotes that you don't feel that you're getting a history lesson at the same time.


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