A Pleasant Book from Azerbaijan – Some Remarks

Literary Sources of Azerbaijani Multiculturalism

published by the Baku International Multiculturalism Centre, 2016
ISBN 978-9952-28-342-2


Receiving this little volume left me quite surprised.

As the table of content shows, this book features 78 (!) different Azerbaijani authors – and Kurban Said is one of them.

The short excerpts presented in the Ali & Nino chapter gives me the impression that this book is a signal of readiness to stretch out the hand to … whoever wants to take it.  Something to soothen the otherwise prevailing war rethorics on a more outward level. I presume that nothing in Azerbaijan of this scale is published without the consent of the governement, so this book is to be regarded as an official signal of appeasement.  And that even more since this quotation by the State President Mr. Ilham Aliyev is to be found on the introductory page:



And what a wonderful first headline: We Are All Atoms of a Single Sun!

In general I welcome this book – and this for different reasons. It appears to be a peace project of the Azerbaijani Government.

Looking at the chapter about Kurban Said’s Ali & Nino I feel the need to add som editorial remarks.

It can be regarded as a well-meaning compromise to mention both “candidates” for the authorship to Ali & Nino. This balanced way is a progress. Of course I would have preferred if finally the name Çemenzeminli would have been dismissed. But I mustn’t be surprised it wasn’t – rather I should be motivated to finalize my collection of proof why the novel was written by Essad Bey (Lev Nussimbaum). So far Betty Blair has led the field with her infamous publication.

But the time will come and the tide will change – eventually.

I had to smile because Essad Bey AND Çemenzeminli are mentioned equally in the text – however, the life dates given are Essad Bey’s. Nice, thank you!



Page 260 f.: Qurban Said (1905-1942)

The use of the term “core author” is a telltale sign that also Betty Blair’s work was consulted. The term “core author” is coined by her – although it is not clear what is meant by it. Perhaps this: “A man was in love with a woman called ‘N’.” (Don’t worry if you don’t understand this sentence. The right people will understand. Perhaps I’ll go into it at a later date.)

If that’s the core … perhaps. But there were many men being in love with Nigars, Ninos, Narmins, Nazriennes, Nurays, Nermins etc. It is not a unique feature for an Azerbaijani man to be in love with a woman whose name is abbreviated with “N”, nor to kiss her in the Governor’s Garden.

The author of this article quotes Ali’s last name in the way the Vezirov brothers translated it from the Turkish edition in which it was spelt Şirvanşir – the Turkish came from the English spelling: Shirvanshir – and the English came from the German spelling: Schirwanschir.
However, the Vezirov brothers made “Cavanşir” in their Azeri edition from the Turkish version “Şirvanşir”. And here in the reviewed book “Cavanşir” became Javanshir.

Essad Bey created his variation Shirvanshir of the the former ruling Khan’s name Shirvanshah. He also used the names of the other protagonists in the novel not by chance but with intention. This subject will be treated in my forthcoming book.

The few excerpts from the novel here in this volume were not taken from Jenia Graman’s English translation, but were – for obvious reasons – translated into English from the Vezirov brothers’ translation, which, in turn, had been translated from Turkish – Hurriyet, Istanbul 1971 – into Azeri, published in 2004. The Turkish, of course, was in turn a translation from Jenia Graman’s English translation – and her text is of course a translation from German.

So the translation given in this book is is a translation of a translation of a translation of a translation. Fair enough: the particular meaning of the text did survive.

This leads me to an inaccuracy in the bibliography on page 268 (number 50) where it is stated that this translation by the Vezirov brothers was published by Şərq Qərb* in 2006. This is an error. The Şərq Qərb edition of 2006 contains Mirza Mikhailov Khazar’s translation from the German.


Excerpt from the Bibliography

The translation of the Vezirov brothers was published 2004 by the Folklore Institute, Baku (light blue cover) and reprinted in 2007 (dark blue cover) – both editions with Çemenzeminli’s portrait on the frontcover and nowadays very hard to find. I own both of them.

The longer quote and the short quotes on pages 262 and 263 were carefully picked for their multicultural, multireligious and multinational statements. Musa Nagi, a practising Baha’i, is being quoted for his wonderful universal message of love and faith. Then the beautiful girl’s Georgian heritage is praised as much as the wonders of the city of Shusha (to my knowledge the most important city of Nagorno Karabagh) – and how Christians and Muslims used to celebrate together.

All in all the message of this book is peace and this felt strongly. That’s why I believe this book can only be recommended.

Some thoughts a while after writing this review:

It became clear to me that Azerbaijan is feeding from its past. They are putting on these old shoes of multiculturalism and show them in the shining light of the present. But if one thinks that this means, the current social reality is led by freedom, is mistaken.

As each farmer knows he has to prepare the soil in winter so that new produce can grow in spring. However, the current government does not do that. There is no social or political climate in which great minds can unfold to their full potential.

So today I am somewhat tempted to say that the Azerbaijani government is throwing sand in the eyes of the reader with such books.

But it still this one is a beautiful one.


* Sorry, no way to use the Azeri letters here in WordPress aesthetically.








To my knowledge the first academic book about A&N – and the same time to be taken serious!

Approaches to Kurban Said’s ‘Ali and Nino’

Edited by Carl Niekerk and Cori Crane


ISBN 978-1-57113-990-0
Camden House, Rochester, NY, USA


Finally I received the long-awaited book! First I had had the chance to read parts of a chapter online on Google Books, so I knew the book wouldn’t disappoint me.

In fact, as Essad Bey’s current German publisher, expert on Essad Bey’s life and particularly on the publication history of Ali & Nino, most considerations of literary science are of lesser importance to me personally. Nevertheless I do love the fact that the novel is taken so seriously – and it should be!

The chapter I was able to read online (at least parts of it) was No. 7: “Love and Politics: Retelling History in Ali and Nino and Artush and Zaur” by Daniel Schreiner. This tickled me especially since I happen to know the author of Artush and Zaur, Alekper Aliyev, and I’m somewhat familiar with the somewhat unfortunate history of his novel. I also read the German and English manuscripts. But that’s a different story.

In this review I am only going to speak about Carl Niekerk’s and Cori Crane’s “Introduction: Ali and Nino as World Literature”, for an introduction must have the biographical and more general info about Kurban Said / Essad Bey.

To be precise: I am not going to speak about the text in general, I want to point out errors and give my opinion on some statements.

I have great respect for the editors, they are scientists of literature, and I welcome this book greatly. As far as I know this is the first attempt to look at Ali & Nino academically – after Gerhard Höpp’s most valuable texts from over 20 years ago.

Since the authors and editors of this volume here hardly have had reliable sources from which to draw waterproof biographical information about Lev Nussimbaum’s / Essad Bey’s / Kurban Said’s life, they are excused for this matter.

Here we go:

On: “INTRODUCTION: Ali and Nino as World Literature”

Comments by Hans-Jürgen Maurer, Frankfurt/Germany

Page 1:


Here the questions are asked: “Why was the novel written in German?”, “Why in 1937?”

Essas Bey was a German writer. We know of some Russian love poems  he’d written in his youth to his great love Zhenia Voronowa. And he may have contributed Russian texts to publications in his early years. Undoubtedly Russian was his first language (spoken in his family – I know picture postcards he’s written in the 1930s to his aunt in Paris). But after his mother’s suicide when he was five years old he learned German from his governess.

As a writer of magazine articles and books he clearly was a German author.

So the question “Why was the novel written in German?” to me sounds like a rethoric question.

Why was the book published in 1937? By that time, Essad Bey was living from hand to mouth again (the authors are hinting at that on page 3). We do not know anything about the motivation for this love story. The inspiration for topics an author chooses at any given time will be a mystery forever. And who cares, really?

So for me the question “why 1937?” is neither a valid one – in my opinion. You write what you’re inspired to write. Why was the Carl Niekerk’s book published in 2017, not in 2015? You see what I mean?

A&N must have been a fairly easy book for Kurban Said to write since he’s “recycled” some earlier material of his in A&N.

It would be more interesting to ask about the resonance the novel had in society during that time of racism (and I could imagine that into the book this question will be discussed). Lucy Tal, the publisher, claimed in the 1970s that the novel had been a flop. I don’t believe that – it saw four editions at the time and they sold the rights for five foreign languages.


In the last line of page 1 is stated that “Das Mädchen vom Goldenen Horn” was published by the same publisher.

No, it was published by Zinnen Verlag.

zinnen_kat_38_beschnitten   zinnen_kat_38_innen_beschnitten


Page 2:


Quote: “Tom Reiss argues that the author of Ali and Nino is Lev (or Leo) Nussimbaum, born in Baku in 1905 …

Yes, indeed, Tom says that. But back then we did not have the information we have today. Meanwhile the entry of Lev’s birth was found in Kiev. But that does not even say he was born exactly there, he was just registered in that Kiev Synagogue. Please see my other posting regarding Lev’s birth place.


Quote: “In Berlin, Nussimbaum hid his Jewish identity and adopted the alias ‘Essad Bey’…”

Here it is not clear if this is still Tom Reiss quoted.

Lev did not hide his Jewish identity. There is a letter, written by Hertha Pauli, his later literary agent in Vienna to the New York Times, in which she said he never made a secret out of his ancestry. He even made jokes about it. She was talking of the Vienna years 1933 till 1938 – when it was more dangerous to be Jewish. But even in Essas Bey’s early Berlin years almost all of his friends were Jewish … Alexander Brailow, the Pasternaks, the Voronows, Yasha Zaguskin and many more. It was during his time at the Russian Gymnasium he converted to Islam.  That’s why “Essad Bey” is not an alias but his assumed name after his conversion.

This change of name he took very seriously. Alexander Brailow speaks about it in his unpublished memoirs (on file in my archive) – namely how Essad Bey had to “force” his peers to address him by his new name and how they teased him about it. But likewise Brailow gives a dialogue between Essad Bey and the teacher, where the latter addressed him indeed as “Essad Bey”.

No known source says that he hid his ancestry. Hertha Pauli even said that he often was seen with his father, Abram Nussimbaum – to which she added, that “he looked like one of the quaint figures out of his son’s books”.


Bottom of the page:

Quote: “Accordingly, all earnings associated not only with the German version of Ali and Nino but also with its many translations went to Elfriede von Ehrenfels herself and, after her death, to her heirs.”

This is wrong.

The royalties of 1937 until the early forties went to Elfriede von Ehrenfels – after all, she’s in the contract -, and were surely forwarded to Essad Bey. She then went to Greece where she stayed for many years.

In the meantime the book was forgotten.

When A&N became a bestseller in the 1970s Elfriede was aware of it but she neither claimed nor received a penny. It was clear to her and her ex-husband, Umar Rolf, that Essad Bey was the author. I have old correspondence on file proving this. This evidence will eventually be published in my own book.

Also, we know that Lucy Tal received most of the royalties from the book’s success from 1970 onwards, sharing it only in part with Jenia Graman who was very upset about it. That’s a seperate, complex, story which will be told in my book.

Elfriede was so dis-identified with A&N that she did not even put it into her will. Only about three years after her death the old publishing contract was found in her belongings and the now-Baroness, Mireille, had the court officially enter this contract retroactively into Elfriede’s will (copy on file). The benefactor of Elfriede’s will was Mireille’s daughter Leela. Elfriede’s heir, Leela Ehrenfels, received money after her lawyer enforced her right, but that was not before the final years of the 1980s (and she’s receiving money until today).

So yes, one part of the sentence IS right: after Elfriede’s death, the royalties went to her heirs. However, she died in 1984, but only after their laywer made his point in the late 80ies, the royalties were secured for the Ehrenfels family.


Page 3:


Top line.

Quote: “The only evidence that the baroness’s heirs have offered to date in support of their relative’s authorship of Ali and Nino is that the alias “Kurban Said” in 1937 was registered in Elfriede von Ehrenfels’s  name.”

Well, “to date” is unfortunately out-dated. They’re not saying anymore that auntie Friedel wrote the book, they simply point at the fact that the contract bears her name – and this is true.

They’re now putting it it this way: “We do not know who of the two, E.B. and aunt Elfriede, wrote what and how much, but the contract is in her name, so the money is ours.”

That story will have to be told elsewhere.



Last third of first paragraph, the question of Çemenzeminli.

I will try to make this as short as possible, because this has become an awfully loaded topic.

After Random House had published the book in April 1971, newspapers printed book reviews of the novel. Two exiled Azerbaijanis in Washington D.C. were astounded at this book, the places, names, streets, history, all were real to them. They tried to make sense of the question who was behind “Kurban Said”. So they simply concluded it could only have been Çemenzeminli – who had been the professor for literature of one of the two now-Washingtoners: Mustafa Türkekul. They wrote to Random House. After the Random House editor Charlotte Mayerson talked to them, she informed the New York Times which wrote about this “discovery”.

But also two other people who were eager newspaper readers, Alexander Brailow (Essad Beys classmate in the Berlin years) and Hertha Pauli (Essad Bey’s literary agent in the Vienna years) wrote to the newspapers and/or the publisher giving their story, both stating that “Kurban Said” was Essad Bey.

Their testimony weighed much heavier from the beginning, but the Çemenzeminli theory was born and slowly made its way eastwards – via Turkey to Azerbaijan.

Çemenzeminli has NOT written the book, no matter what Betty Blair says. As far as I am concerned she can stand on her head, wiggle her ears, and sound the mantra “Çemenzeminli” for the next 100 years – she is mistaken. More about her and her unfortunate publication in my review on this blog.

The whole Çemenzeminli-idea was simply the fabrication of two exiled Azerbaijanis who tried to make sense out of this pseudonym – nothing wrong about it!

After all, they were interested and concerned. Unfortunately they were mistaken. The only real mistake they made is that they later INSISTED it must have been like that, no matter what.

More about this story in my forthcoming book.


Page 4:

12th line from above:

Quote: “… he died at the age of 37 on August 27, 1942”

Because he was born on 20 October 1905 he still was 36.


Page 5:

Bottom line:

Quote: “… Öl und Blut im Orient, his most successful book …”

Which one of his books his most successful one was remains to be researched. At least in the German speaking countries, Flüssiges Gold (Liquid Gold) was far more successful. That can easily be determined by the copyright page of the 2nd Swiss edition. But one would have to compare the international editions – of which there were quite a few of Öl and Blut, and Flüssiges Gold was never translated into English.

Stalin was perhaps even more successfull.

But nevertheless Öl und Blut im Orient was indeed successful.


Page 12:

Footnote 2 and 5, about the Wikipedia entry to Ali and Nino.

I can only refer to my forthcoming criticism of Betty Blair’s plentiful shenanigans.


… to be continued …



Adrienne Landry’s Epic Bummer

Under the link given at the bottom you can find an example of a copied-from-a-copier-from-a-copier article. This time under the guise of “academic expertise”.

We contacted the author, Adrienne Landry, twice. Once by e-mail and once by registered letter to the university. To no avail.

See our “slight” hints for correction above. We are sure we could have found more if we had considered our time not as too precious to be spent on this type of text.

I know the picture shown above looks as if a chicken ran over it. If you want to see my corrections (as incomplete as they may be) in normal size, go to the contact page and drop me a line. I shall be happy to send you a PDF.




“The Agony of Essad Bey” DVD

Berlin film maker Mr. Ralf Marschalleck, foremost Essad Bey researcher and expert, has released his almost two-hour-long documentary “Die Schmerzen des Essad Bey” – or, in English, “The Agony of Essad Bey”.

Go here for watching the trailer:

In German: http://www.essadbey-derfilm.de

In English: http://www.essadbey-thefilm.com

(You can order the DVD from those links as well!)

This is a compassionate approach to Essad Bey’s last years he spent in physical suffering and mental torment, isolated from his friends, dependent on the welfare of other people.

Rare interviews with eye-witnesses like 100 year old Maria Paone, Essad Bey’s first cousin Nahoum Hermont or Azerbaijani translator Cherkez Gurbanly – and many more!

Wonderful imagery of Positano, of Baku and the Azerbaijani countryside. Other featured locations are Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Lichtenau in Austria. Atmospheric music and lots of text from the yet-unpublished last manuscript “The Man Who Knew Nothing About Love”.

Poignant, meditative and moving. A truly individual artistic approach to a fascinating life!

Highly recommended!

110 minutes.

Keeping Records Straight

This web site was designed not only to try and keep up with the wealth of misinformation about Essad Bey’s (Kurban Said’s) life and work, but also to point out valuable material.

When it comes to Essad Bey we find a flabbergasting amount of errors and poor quotation moral – not to mention slander and hatred – most of which is based upon the indiscriminate perpetuation of old and insufficient research.

This site will grow over time – as time permits and occasion is provided (we least worry about the latter).

The language of a post is determined by the language of the reviewed text. Only German and English texts can be presented.

If you find errors in grammar, orthography, punctuation and style, kindly bear with the author. Neither is he a native English speaker, nor has he ever lived in an English speaking environment. A friendly yell by e-mail will be greatly appreciated. So will be questions and ideas for further postings.

Thank you!

P.S. Comments will remain disabled for the time being: we are dealing here with facts which are non-negotiable. Just drop us a line if you want to say something: info at verlaghjmaurer dot de

Featured post

Lev Nussimbaum’s Birth Place

No matter if you read one thousand times about Baku as Lev’s birth place – NO, Lev Nussimbaum’s birth was registered in the synagogue of Kiev and is indicated as 20 October 1905. Back then, Kiev was part of the Russian Empire. Today, of course, it is the capital of Ukraine.

It is astonishing how in all German official documents of the 1920s and 1930s “Kiev” is given correctly as Lev’s birth place – bureaucracy obviously can be trusthworthy.

The origin of the Baku-birthplace-blooper is not very difficult to imagine – Essad Bey himself. He might have felt that Baku fit best to his assumed Muslim identity. While Kiev, with it’s large Jewish population might have caused suspicion. But the government knew all along where he was born – after all, he came into Germany with his passports issued in Georgia.

By the way, have you noticed, we are stating here only that his birth was registered in Kiev, that we are NOT saying that he was born there? Where he was born, we do not know. Perhaps in Kiev. Perhaps even during a train ride, as Essad Bey claimed himself.

Just remember, he was NOT born in Baku.

His birthday on 20 October 1905 was after the old Russian (Julian) calender. That makes his birthday after our current (Gregorian) calender 2 November 1905. But Essad himself never converted  this date, so everybody else is talking about 20 October.

The Russian language document reads:

” … The same time we will inform you that in the above mentioned register [the birth register of the Synagogue of the city of Kiev] we discovered an entry for Nusimbaum, Lev Abramovitch with the following content:

Nr. 684 Lev. Born 20 October (4. Heshvana), the ritual of circumcision was performed on 27 October (11. Heshvara) of the year 1905.

Parents: The Tiflis citizen Abram Lejbusowitsch Nusimbaum, mother Basja Davidowna.

Etc… “

Featured post

“Alias Kurban Said” DVD (click on image)

Have you heard of the documentary “Alias Kurban Said” by Dutch filmmaker Jos de Putter?

If you don’t know it, you might want to consider getting a copy. Scroll down for the link.

You will love this documentary particularly when you’re a fan of Tom Reiss’ book “The Orientalist”. Why? Because you can see here a number of people Tom writes about – or at least their relatives.

As much as I LOVE this film, allow me to make some additional remarks:

This film bears the release date of 2004, which means that the research it presents is from that time and earlier. I suppose the interviews were done in 2003. Back then we didn’t know about Essad Bey’s / Kurban Said’s life as much as we know today.  And this is understandable.

Bear in mind that this beautiful film cannot (and does not) answer the question, who the author of “Ali and Nino” is. Therefore, if you are looking for that answer, you’ll run the risk of being more confused after watching this documentation, because all options are presented equally.

BUT: By now this film is a historical document because many of the interviewed people are no longer with us. And Bruno Ganz’ voice is a special treat!

A detailed commentary for expanded information and knowledge – as well as for rectification of some statements which are more of the adventurous kind (particularly by the Baroness) is in the making and will be published in this Blog.

A recommended DVD!!!

P.S. In case you wonder why the initiative for this documentary came from the Netherlands – of all countries -, the answer is quite simple.

The population of the Netherlands in 2016 was barely 17 million.

Then we see that four (!) different translations of “Ali and Nino” into Dutch exist – to date the world-record!

  • 1938, W. A. Fick-Lugten;
  • 1974, Else Hoog;
  • 1991, Willem Oorthuizen;
  • 2001, Gerda Meijerink.

These four translation have been published in about 9 different editions which saw about 18 print runs. And not to forget an audio book!

By this we easily can assume that this ranks the Netherlands into the top three countries world wide, as far as the popularity of “Ali and Nino” is concerned.

More about this subject in my forthcoming “Ali and Nino” monography. Info about this publication will be published as it becomes available (the info).


This is a link to Jos de Putter’s own website: https://www.josdeputter.com/alias-kurban-said

This is a link to Zeppersfilm, where you can buy the DVD. Don’t worry about the Dutch text. The DVD is in German, English, Russian – and with English subtitles.


Alias Kurban Saïd (2004)

Birgit Menzel und der GAU

Im oben abgebildeten Aufsatzband “Nationenbildung und Übersetzung”* findet sich ab Seite 147 Birgit Menzels Beitrag “Eurasien als Translationsraum” – ein Artikel der einem “Super-GAU” sehr nahe kommt, zumindest, was die Aussagen zu Essad Bey betrifft.

Das, was Frau Menzel ansonsten über ihr Fachgebiet schreibt, kann ich nicht beurteilen. Hier geht es nur um die Falschaussagen Essad Bey betreffend.

Keine Ahnung, wo anfangen … versuchen wir es so:

  • Auf Seiten 148 und 150 ist Essad Bey 1905 geboren (richtig), allerdings auf Seite 148 in Baku (falsch) und auf Seite 150 in Kiev (korrekt);
  • Als er 1922 zum Islam übertrat, sei er 15 gewesen … hmmm … wenn er 1905 geboren wurde … rechnen wir einmal nach … – Seite 151;
  • Zitat: “… bis vor kurzem galt er als Autor von Ali und Nino” – HICKS! No comment! – Seite 149;
  • Zitat: “… er schrieb seine Bücher auch in italienischer und polnischer Sprache”  – NEIN, hat er nicht! – Seite 149;
  • Angeblich ging er mit Pasternaks Schwestern zur Schule. NEIN!  Pasternaks Schwestern Lydia and Josefine waren etwas älter; sie waren aber Teil von Essad Beys Freundeskreises;
  • Nurida Ateshis Buch “Yüz Ilin Sirlari” wird hier mirakulöserweise zur Dissertation – trauriger kann man Trauriges nicht machen! – Fußnote 15 auf Seite 151;
  • Essad Beys Buch “Öl und Blut im Orient” – eines seiner bekanntesten, heißt bei Frau Menzel: “Blut und Öl im Kaukaus” – Seite 153 und 163; ABER: in Fußnote 32 auf Seite 154 ist der Buchtitel richtig zitiert – was das Ganze nur schlimmer macht;
  • Leela Ehrenfels wird hier plötzlich zu Elfriede Ehrenfels’ Tochter – oh mein Gott! – und behaupte angeblich nun ihrerseits, die Autorin von “Ali und Nino” zu sein – TUT SIE NICHT! – Fußnote 40 auf Seite 157;
  • Essad Bey schrieb “begeistert” über Stalin. Sicherlich nicht, er war aber der erste, der Stalin realistisch sah, als alle Welt ihn noch als Heilsbringer sehen wollte;
  • 1969 sei die deutsche Ausgabe von A&N erschienen – NEIN, es war 1973, und zwar die Neuausgabe – Seite 160;
  • Seite 160 ist weiterhin voller krauser “Informationen”;
  • Seite 161, erster Absatz (der auf der vorigen Seite beginnt) ist total wirr;
  • Leider geht Birgit Menzel auch Betty Blair auf den Leim, wie man an Fußnote 33 auf Seite 154 sehen kann. (Betty Blairs Machwerk “The Business of Literature” werden wir uns auch noch ausführlich widmen.)

Diese Punkte bilden nur die Spitze des Eisbergs. Bei vielen anderen Sätzen muss man feststellen: “Jaaa … neeein … kann man so nicht sagen … na ja, nicht wirklich … nein, so geht das nicht! ”

Aber mehr Zeit zu investieren, war nicht drin. Schade, dass eine Akademikerin sich zu dermaßen schlampigem Arbeiten hinreißen ließ. Viele Fehler hätten durch eine einfache Internet-Recherche vermieden werden können.

Ich bringe es einfach nicht über mich, mir diesen Band anzuschaffen, noch nichtmal für mein Regal, Abteilung “Kuriosa”.
Fotokopien genügen völlig.

*Berlin 2015 (Frank & Timme GmbH), ISBN 978-3-86596-421-2, 24,80 Euro


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