Wednesday, 30 September 2009
The pair of the title are Ali Khan Shirvanshir a young Muslim aristocrat and Nino Kipiani, a Georgian Christian living in the old-fashioned yet strangely cosmopolitan town of Baku. As childhood sweethearts, their culture, faith, political allegiances and families stand in the way of them possibly marrying.
The story is set during the years preceding and during the First World War and the subsequent creation of independent Azerbaijan and we witness the dramatic upheaval these events bring to the lives of Ali, Nino and their cast of friends and foes: Arab, Georgian, Armenian, Russian, Turkish, Persian and British.
The book paints a vivid and intriguing picture of the Central Asian town with its strategic position between the Eastern and Western world. The harems, patriarchy and strict social etiquettes of the Muslims are contrasted with the raucous parties, excesses and freedoms of the Georgians. Ali is portrayed as being enchanted by the call of the desert and Nino as feeling herself come alive amongst the rich dirt and the trees of the woodlands. The focus of the book for me was not so much East versus West as is the vogue regarding such things today, but the way the Caucasus is a mixture of East and West, of tradition and modernity and of so many faiths and cultures.
Questions are raised about what should spur a man to war: faith? Nationality? The prospect of survival? Other substantial themes touched on in this book are love, honour, faith, the role and rights of women, leaving behind childhood and duty.
Said takes us on an interesting journey through the Caucusus, via Baku, Daghestan, Karabakh, Georgia and Iran highlighting the unique character of each place and it’s people (indeed there is an Ali and Nino tour).
My reservation was the books treatment of its Muslim characters which were beyond caricature. Kurban himself was said to be a Muslim (the author is considered most likely to be Lev Nussimbaum who converted to Islam from Judaism, although the book has been attributed to various others ), which makes me wonder if his portrayal of Ali and his family is supposed to be satirical, but I really could not be sure:
“A creature without soul and intelligence has no faith anyway. No Paradise or Hell is waiting for a woman. When she dies she just disintegrates into nothing. The sons must of course be Shiites” p.89
Such passages and descriptions and dialogue abound through the book and made me wonder what Kurban was aiming at. Muslim’s are portrayed as racists, incredibly, horribly misogynist, in love with violence, snobs and hypocrites – beating themselves during Muharram and then lording it over their harems (complete with eunach) and drinking themselves into oblivion the rest of the time (no stereotypes there then).
Also, the book is narrated through Ali and so we gain a limited insight into what Nino is feeling and thinking aside from what her outbursts and impetuous actions show.
Aside from this, this is an interesting book about a little known place and events with a rather bitter sweet love story running through it.
Saturday, 26 September 2009
She insisted I take some pyjama's her sister had bought two pairs of for her son, I refused at first and then agreed to swap for my blue blingy bangles ( I had two more at home).
The best thing was that the kids were so tired they came home and went to bed at 7pm!!!! Whilst my mum-in-law was here they were running rings around her and had me pulling my hair out trying to keep them in bed as late as 11pm. The boys are fast asleep, Little Lady has been helping me make her dad's dinner as he has had a very long, tough day at work and has even been folding laundry (anything to keep out of bed). My dad has just been to visit and has been enjoying the cakes too as he has been fasting today.
I got home from work a little late (waiting in the car whilst hubby sorted something out), but thankfully already knew what everyone was wearing (their Eid clothes again), so rushed into the kitchen to make more cakes. I only remembered to take a picture after I had cling-filmed the tray.
The food was lovely (chicken pilau rice, chicken curry, spring rolls with chickpeas inside which I had never seen before, salad, pitta bread, roast chicken legs and Lahori-style chickpea curry which was gorgeous). I had a nice time and it's nice to dress up and feel girly sometimes when there are no men around, although one of the boys seemed a bit older and had a slight moustache, when I pointed this out to Kooky Little Sister she mischeivously suggested that didn't really count as so did some of the little girls...
The kids did drive me mad with Gorgeous refusing to get off the table and causing havoc, Little Man demanding to go home because his dad would be waiting for him and Little Lady sulking because she was "booorred". She spotted a classmate luckily and perked up no end running around happily and even dancing with her friend after declaring she was too shy. We left as things got loud and rowdy much to the regret of my lovely friend (she insisted the fun was just beginning), but still had a nice time.
The restaurant itself was stunning outside and inside with areas to sit on the floor to eat, latticed wooden screens and flocked velvet-style wallpaper everywhere.
We tried pad thai, noodles, green curry, spring rolls and steamed rice - all fairly typical and unadventurous. Some of the food was delicious, other parts less so. I did enjoy the meal but was still slightly hungry at the end of it. I would reccommend it to someone else, but if I were to pick somewhere to eat Thai food it would be the unnassuming little Tippy's cafe in East Ham which looks rather pokey but has the best Thai food I have ever tasted.
In any case I had an absolute blast with the girls, we giggled and joked all evening. The best bit was when one of the Muslim girls decided to try her mocktail and someone called out "Nooo that's alcoholic!", she nearly fell of her chair as she clamped her hands over her mouth in horror (it wasn't really alcoholic).
I eventually got home far later than expected because we took so long getting there (the Sat Nav decided to take us the longest way it could). I came home to find hubby had left the kids with my sister who was FUMING at their mischief. Might be sometime before I go out without the kids again I think, but it was nice for a change.
Tuesday, 22 September 2009
There was rice with peas, chicken curry, haleem and kheer (rice pudding) on top of the hob, kebabs on the grill and roast chicken in the oven. In the end, we had to dig out the biggest pot in the house and decant the rice into that to give it enough room to cook and fluff up.
We had my mum and sisters around for lunch and uncle's family around for dinner. Hubby invited a freinds family to join us for dinner too and I had to make a second pot of kheer in the afternoon (which took about 3 hours as you have to cook it till it's almost solid - I cheated by adding condensed milk).
Monday, 21 September 2009
The best reaction was from the kids. Little Man came downstairs, screamed and ran back up again. Baby just stood with his mouth opened then turned around slowly taking it all in. He declared "I won't break them mummy, I'll just swing from them".
After breakfast and talking to their grandparents in Pakistan on the webcam (who were still fasting!), the kids had their photoshoot.
The rest of the day was spent glued to the sofa, laughing, chatting and reading. After so many days of busyness and exhaustion, it was rather blissfull to do not much.
EID MUBARAK EVERYBODY!