The Orientalist

The Orientalist

Solving the Mystery of A Strange and A Dangerous Life

Book - 2005
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Part history, part cultural biography, and part literary mystery,The Orientalisttraces the life of Lev Nussimbaum, a Jew who transformed himself into a Muslim prince and became a best-selling author in Nazi Germany.  Born in 1905 to a wealthy family in the oil-boom city of Baku, at the edge of the czarist empire, Lev escaped the Russian Revolution in a camel caravan.  He found refuge in Germany, where, writing under the names Essad Bey and Kurban Said, his remarkable books about Islam, desert adventures, and global revolution, became celebrated across fascist Europe.  His enduring masterpiece,Ali and Nino--a story of love across ethnic and religious boundaries, published on the eve of the Holocaust--is still in print today. But Lev's life grew wilder than his wildest stories.  He married an international heiress who had no idea of his true identity--until she divorced him in a tabloid scandal.  His closest friend in New York, George Sylvester Viereck--also a friend of both Freud's and Einstein's--was arrested as the leading Nazi agent in the United States.  Lev was invited to be Mussolini's official biographer--until the Fascists discovered his "true" identity.  Under house arrest in the Amalfi cliff town of Positano, Lev wrote his last book--discovered in a half a dozen notebooks never before read by anyone--helped by a mysterious half-German salon hostess, an Algerian weapons-smuggler, and the poet Ezra Pound.  Tom Reiss spent five years tracking down secret police records, love letters, diaries, and the deathbed notebooks.  Beginning with a yearlong investigation forThe New Yorker, he pursued Lev's story across ten countries and found himself caught up in encounters as dramatic and surreal, and sometimes as heartbreaking, as his subject's life.  Reiss's quest for the truth buffets him from one weird character to the next: from the last heir of the Ottoman throne to a rock opera-composing baroness in an Austrian castle, to an aging starlet in a Hollywood bungalow full of cats and turtles. As he tracks down the pieces of Lev Nussimbaum's deliberately obscured life, Reiss discovers a series of shadowy worlds--of European pan-Islamists, nihilist assassins, anti-Nazi book smugglers, Baku oil barons, Jewish Orientalists--that have also been forgotten.  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 and terrorism.  Written with grace and infused with wonder,The Orientalistis an astonishing book.  
Publisher: New York : Random House, 2005.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9781400062652
1400062659
Characteristics: 433 p. :,ill. ;,24 cm.

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IndyPL_SteveB Jan 15, 2019

An amazing biography of a man nearly lost to history. This is about the life of the famous Islamic novelist and travel writer Essad Bey, who was possibly also Kurban Said, the author of what is considered the national novel of Azerbaijan. Essad Bey was actually Lev Nussimbaum, a Jew who had fled the Middle East to Berlin in the early 1920s, converted to Islam, and then fled Berlin in the 1930’s. He and his father escaped the Middle East on camels and had other adventures. During WW2, he came to the United States hoping to become a Hollywood writer, then eventually went to Italy and tried to talk Mussolini into letting him write his biography.

Deeply researched and well-written.

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