Like most love stories, this one ends tragically; however,I enjoyed the book not for its love story but rather for its depicition of Ali and Nino's cultural conflict. Nino is a Georgian Christian living in Baku; Ali is an Azeri Muslim. Their love symbolizes the meeting of the West and the East.
I once asked Vali if Azeris think of themselves as Europeans or as Asians. He told me that this book actually begins with this very question. Even in the conclusion, the author describes Baku as the place where East meets West, although this is more an expression of the war during which the Russians overtake the newly independent Republic of Azerbaijan (for +70 years until Azerbaijan gains its independence with the fall of the Soviet Union).
It is probably an unfair or absurd question to ask. And yet, it is not without precedent in the USA. When I was a little boy, it was not uncommon for us to identify ourselves to each other by way of our ethnically hyphenated ancestry. I was, depending on the audience, Irish-American or German-American. I think for my grandparents' generation possibly and my great-grandparents certainly, this split identity was something tangible, as tangible as the accented English on their tongues. Today, my children don't think this way. In fact, they are often perplexed by the question, "who are you?" as if the answer were obvious.
I would love to hear what my friends in Georgia and Azerbaijan they think about the novel (if they have read it) and the question posed by the Russian teacher in Ali's Baku school:
It can therefore be said, my children, that is partly your responsibility as to whether our town should belong to progressive Europe or to reactionary Asia. (4)