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The Orientalist

Tom Reiss

Part history, part cultural biography, and part literary mystery, The Orientalist traces the life of Lev Nussimbaum, a Jew who transformed himself into a Muslim prince and became a best-selling author in Nazi Germany. 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.

First published:
Published by:
Chatto and Windus
Hardcover 433 pages

About the author

Tom Reiss is an American author and journalist who has written for The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. He grew up in Texas and Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard College before studying writing with Donald Barthelme at the University of Houston. He currently lives in New York City.