"Herr Professor, Please: We'd Rather Stay in Asia": Ali Khan Shirvanshir and the Spaces of Baku
Approaches to Kurban Said's Ali and Nino: Love, Identity, and Intercultural Conflict
The geography teacher of the Imperial Russian Humanistic High School of Baku, Transcaucasia, poses a challenge that resonates throughout Ali and Nino: "It can therefore be said, my children, that it is partly your responsibility as to whether our town should belong to progressive Europe or to reactionary Asia" (3-4; Es hängt also gewissermaßen von Ihrem Verhalten ab, meine Kinder, ob unsere Stadt zum fortschrittlichen Europa oder zum rückständigen Asien gehören soll, 5). While the teacher's European leanings are clear, his Muslim students, Ali Khan Shirvanshir [Schirwanschir] among them, explicitly state that they see themselves as Asians. Throughout the novel, Ali Khan will not waver in his conviction. The space around him, however, is constantly changing. Whether Ali Khan likes it or not, Baku is indeed becoming Europeanized, be it through the construction of European-style villas or the arrival of European troops. Indeed, this change will also invade his private sphere, as he and his wife Nino will redecorate their house in a European manner in order for it to be suitable for diplomatic entertaining. Ultimately, Ali will die fighting the invading Russian soldiers; he cannot prevent his beloved city from being overrun. Ali's death is an inevitable result of the Europeanization of Baku. Ali's Asian space has been taken away from him.
Haque, Kamaal. '"Herr Professor, Please: We'd Rather Stay in Asia": Ali Khan Shirvanshir and the Spaces of Baku." In Approaches to Kurban Said's Ali and Nino: Love, Identity, and Intercultural Conflict, edited by Carl Niekerk and Cori Crane, 152-167. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2017.