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The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life by Tom Reiss
The Orientalist is the biography of Lev Nussimbaum, Essad Bey, and Kurban Said, all who were the same person. Nussimbaum was born as a Jew in oil-rich Baku, Azerbaijan in 1905. As a teenager, he had to flee the atrocities of the Russian Revolution. Still he remained enamored of the culture he left behind, converting to Islam in his 20s. He had been to Constantinople just before it became Istanbul. Settling in Germany, he wrote books under the name Essad Bey. When his books were banned because of his Jewish heritage, he switched to the pseudonym Kurban Said. It was under that name he published his masterpiece, Ali and Nino, about a love affair between a Baku boy and a Georgian girl. Nussimbaum created several names and histories for himself and married an heiress who didn't even know his real name. He juggled the Jewish, Asian, and German aspects of his personality until he had to flee the Nazis and head for Italy, where he died from Reynaud's syndrome. Tom Reiss' unearthing of the amazing story of one man's search for identity has received positive reviews with the Miami Herald saying, "Reiss has fashioned a truly page-turning meditation on the meaning of homeland and the endless capacity of the imagination to transcend the violence of society's capricious labels."