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The novel Ali and Nino captures a tragic love story between Ali Khan Shirvanshir, a Muslim nobleman, and Nino Kipiani, a Christian Georgian princess, during the time of Russian rule over Persia, present day Iran, at the time of World War I. The novel was published in 1937 under the pseudonym Kurban Said, and its true authorship remains a point of debate. Some believe it to have been written by Lev Nussimbaum.
Privileged schoolboy Ali falls in love with Princess Nino in Baku, a city recently made wealthy by the discovery of oil. However, the start of World War I interrupts any idealistic plans for marriage.
When Nino is kidnapped by an Armenian Christian named Melik Nachararyan, a man whom Ali presumed to be a friend, Ali must pursue him onto a train where Ali murders him. Due to the belief that Nino could have been violated during the kidnapping, which, in Muslim view, would bring shame to her family, Ali is next encouraged by his friend Mehmed Haidar to perform an honor killing upon Nino, but Ali refuses and instead runs to Daghestan to hide from the vengeful family of Nino's kidnapper.
Months later, Nino hears of Ali's whereabouts and pursues him in Daghestan, where the couple immediately marries. During the early months of their marriage, the Ottoman army tries to capture Baku, which would have saved Baku from the Russians, but instead, Russia is able to retake the city. As a result, Ali and Nino must seek asylum in Tehran, where Ali has family under the name Shirvanshir. In Teheran, the Shirvanshirs have a palace near the court. While there, Ali lives in luxury, but Nino suffers persecution as a member of his one-woman harem. She is confined to the dwellings of the harem and constantly reminded to behave like a Muslim woman. Tensions between Ali and Nino grow stronger when Ali feels compelled to practice the bloody, masochistic rituals of the Day of Ashura.
When the couple is finally able to return to Baku, Ali becomes an ambassador to the new Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, but his practices as ambassador only make Nino feel even more uncomfortable. She yearns for the position in Paris they have been offered, but Ali refuses the offer because he does not want to be far from his Muslim roots. When Russia again attacks Baku, Nino seeks asylum in Georgia with their daughter while Ali takes up arms, dying behind his machine gun.
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