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The Orientalist


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An extraordinary and hugely topical story of a Jewish man's passion for the Arab world.

About the Author

Tom Reiss has written about politics and culture in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. He lives in New York.


The Orientalist of this detailed biography is Lev Nussimbaum, a Jew who became a Muslim prince. Reiss (Fuhrer-Ex) was able to flesh out Nussimbaum's mysterious life after discovering a cache of unpublished letters he wrote to a friend. He was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1905 to a Jewish oil baron father and a Bolshevist mother who committed suicide when Nussimbaum was still a child. The Soviet takeover of Baku's oilfields sent him and his father fleeing into the Persian deserts, and thus began his lifelong infatuation with the Middle East and eventual conversion to Islam. He was a nomadic soul whose only constant was his gift as a writer. By the late 1920s, he had become a best-selling author in Weimar Germany under the pseudonyms Essad Bey and Kurban Said (his works of fiction and nonfiction are still considered minor classics), but he was forced to flee when Hitler gained power and died in Italy in 1938. Unfortunately, Reiss gets bogged down in tangential details while trying to place Nussimbaum in early 20th-century context, but this is still an important work that sheds light on the pre-Zionist phenomenon of Jewish Orientalism that led many Jews to embrace Muslim culture. Recommended for academic and public libraries with strong 20th-century literature or history collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/04.]-Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Wonderfully compelling... Deeply moving * Sunday Times *
A wonderous tale, beautifully told...mesmerising, poignant and almost incredible * New York Times *
Meticulous and fascinating... Inspiring reading * Spectator *
Extraordinary on many counts... It has taken the tireless detective work of Tom Reiss to uncover the real Lev Nussimbaum * Sunday Times *
A highly entertaining biography of a very unusual person * Literary Review *

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