The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life - Tom Reiss Having recently completed Ali and Nino: A Love Story and having given it 5 stars, I wanted to know more about the author. The author Lev Nussimbaum, born a Jew, used the pen name Kurban Said. Actually both this book and The Girl from the Golden Horn were registered under the author Elfriede Ehrenfels in the German Nazi document Deutscher Gesamkatalog for the years 1935-1939! Who was this guy?! Why all the different names? He left Judaism and converted to the Islamic faith. This was not motivated by the persecution of Jews under Hitler. He converted earlier. What motivated him? What life experiences formed him? You get all of this in this biography which is carefully researched by Tom Reiss. Basically Lev Nussimbaum continually reinvented himself, even when he was dieing at 36 years of age from Raynaud's disease.

However, this book is more centered on political science than this one man's life. Definitely more than half of this book is about political movements and history. I found the parts about Lev's youth in Baku, Azerbaijan, after the early exploitation of oil, the most colorful and wonderful. I had a harder time following the political topics. The more you know the easier it is to follow such topics. I have alot to learn. This book definitely taught me tons. You learn about how the Russian Revolution played out in the Caucasus, about the growth of fascism and communism and the effects this had on the people living not only in Europe but also Asia and the Near East. I knew little about Jewish Orientalists. Although I have studied the philosopher Buber, he and others like him were hoping that that Zionism would promote the oriental Jewish cause rather than just European Judaic problems. These issues affected who Lev Nussimbaum was as a person. He wrote 14 non-fiction books on political issues, one being a biography about Mussolini. He livesd 1905-1942. Born in Baku to a wealthy oil baron he escaped during the Russian Revolution via boat and camels to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkey and Italy. He lived in Germany and Austria. He had to escape again from the claws of Hitler. How? Well most often, by reinventing himself - over and over again! He lived in the thick of the Russian and European turmoil. For this reason history was a real part os what shaped him. To understand him you have to understand the history of his time. A fascinating life! The book never dragged, but at times it was very difficult to follow all the political twists and turns.

I have two complaints. There is no map in the book and SOMETIMES I think Tom Reiss goes too far in trying to pinpoint WHY Lev did what he did. Sometimes a thorough analysis of a painting just goes too far. Let it be. Let the readers draw their own conclusions.