That’s the title of a post at Poemas del río Wang that I discovered only because Studiolum opened up a back door to his wonderful site that allows you to see over a half-year’s worth of posts at once (as opposed to the normal view, which only shows one or two posts because of the large number of images each contains); I never realized how many posts slipped under my radar, and this one from a month ago it would have been a particular shame to miss, because Lev Nussimbaum/Essad Bey/Kurban Said is a favorite of mine (I’ve written about him here and here). I wrote a long enthusiastic comment only to have it eaten by some damn Blogspot glitch (reminding me of how glad I was to leave that motheaten venue back in 2003 when I got my own domain); too grumpy to try again, I licked my wounds and finally decided to post here instead.
As you would expect from río Wang, there are many gorgeous old images of Baku, as well as one of “Essad Bey in Caucasian mountain dress” and one of the cover of this issue of Azerbaijan International, entirely devoted to the silly business of trying to prove that the book was not written by its oddball Jewish/Muslim Azeri/German author but by a “real” Azerbaijani, “the national poet Yusif Vazir Çemenzeminli.” This is comparable to the desperate attempts to prove that the works of Shakespeare were actually by someone other than the commoner who wrote them, a mere actor who could not possibly have written great poetry and seen into the depths of the human soul (as we all know earls are able to do by virtue of their blue blood); class prejudice and nationalism are parallel forms of blindness, and I wanted to warn the good Studiolum against allowing his mind to be swayed (he writes that the issue “offers very convincing arguments for the authorship of Yusif Vazir”), but I’ll do so here rather than chez lui. At any rate, do go over there and enjoy the material on display, and perhaps bookmark that most useful back door link.


  1. For awhile I’ve been collecting books about imposters and forgers like Essad Bey: Baron Corvo, Trebitsch Lincoln, and Sir Edmund Backhouse. All of them were tremendously talented, all successfully assimilated themselves to some distant culture, all pretended to be someone they were not, all have been the subject of a full length biography (Corvo has two or three), and all but Lincoln have books in print today. Bey and Corvo at least have made permanent contributions to literature, and Backhouse donated an enormous number of books to the Bodleian library.

  2. marie-lucie says:

    JE, I hope you write a book about them.

  3. It would be pretty secondary, no primary research. But maybe a long blog post.
    I just added a guy named David Plotkin who isn’t an imposter but whose works included a forged memoir by Nietzsche confessing to inc*st, a scurrilous novel commissioned by political opponents to smear Senator Burton K Wheeler, a pioneering lesbian porn novel, a cheesy war novel, a cheesy book about Asian politics, a cheesy dictionary of maxims, and a book of what looks to be Sandburg-esque poetry. He writes quite amusingly while faking his way through the facts.

  4. Apparently George Psalmanazar and his Formosan Alphabet haven’t figured here before. (Also not to be missed is “The reason why the Japan Language differs from that of the Chineſe and Formoſans” on the facing page.)

  5. JE: a pioneering lesbian porn novel
    That’s a neat characterization. It can be interpreted in several ways, depending on how the sentence is parsed. Here are some of those ways:
    1. a stylistically unremarkable novel in which Westward-Ho! lesbians engage in ho-hum sex
    2. a stylistically unremarkable novel in which suburban lesbians engage in unusual kinds of sex
    3. a stylistically ambitious novel in which suburban lesbians engage in ho-hum sex

  6. Martin Lehman says:

    Before scoffing at the serious research that has been undertaking by the staff of Azerbaijan International magazine, over a period of six years, one should at least look seriously at it. You would be amazed at the in depth examination with incredible references after deep searching in the Azerbaijan National Archives, Institute of Manuscripts in Baku, visit to the Lichtenau Castle in Austria, etc. Documents in 10 languages were examined.
    So before attacking the work as spurious, and before attacking the incredible insightful and valuable Blog by rio Wang, be honest enough to know what you are talking about.
    Read first. Don’t expose your own prejudices before knowing the issues yourself.
    And, in fact, some of your own comments about Ali and Nino are referenced in the Azerbaijan International’s volume, a triple issue of Azerbaijan International, 364 pages available in English or Azerbaijan. Take a look at http://AZER.com.
    It’s Tom Reiss’s “research” that deserves much more scrutiny.
    Be careful who you are accusing of ethnic prejudice and nationalism before you examine carefully the issues.

  7. Martin Lehman says:

    For more about the Essad Bey research. See Table of contents here.

  8. LH: Many thanks for linking the back door. Invaluable.

  9. before attacking the incredible insightful and valuable Blog by rio Wang
    And you’re urging others to “know what you are talking about”? I have never attacked Poemas del río Wang, one of my favorite sites, nor would I dream of doing so. But life is too short to investigate every enthusiastic claim that comes down the pike (and they’re all supported by piles of “serious research,” from cold fusion to perpetual motion to the Earl of Oxford); I’m afraid you’ll just have to live with my continuing skepticism. I realize how aggravating it must be for Azeris to think that the one novel about their country that any foreigners have read is by an ethnic outsider who left young and never came back, and I sympathize (a tiny bit) with their desire to believe in a more suitable author, but not being Azeri myself, I can’t be expected to share it. And frankly, the difficulty both Germans and Azeris seem to have in accepting a Nussimbaum as author of the book… well, as I said, my sympathy is limited.

  10. That said, I agree that Tom Reiss’s research leaves much to be desired, and I wish someone would do a better biography.

  11. dearieme says:

    I offer, free, my latest sally at a non-Stratfordian. “He was uneducated” said he. “He went to a perfectly good Grammar School” said I. “He didn’t go to University” said he. “You mean Oxford or Cambridge” said I “but now that we suspect that he spent part of his ‘lost years’ at St Andrews, all is explained”. That had him stumped. Fiction, don’cha love it?

  12. Thank you for the share. There are still a lot of items not really clarified in the biography but it is a pretty good overiew. Would love to see someone out out something a bit better though.

  13. Why is it only the Earl of Oxford when there’s a duchy of Cambridge? As someone pointed out at the Guardian today, if they gave an OBE to an earl he would become an earlobe.

  14. As I have explained, the just-married Prince Wiliam is Duke of Cambridge and Earl of Strathearn, but he is not the Duke of Earl.
    They should have used the song somewhere in the wedding, though.
    I am willing to bet that sister-in-law Pippa frequently shows up in the tabloids. it’s as if she were designated for that role.

  15. I can see one headline coming up: “Pippa passes exams!”

  16. The Duke’s in his Earldom –
    All’s right with the world!

  17. Thank you very much, Language Hat, for your kind words and recommendation. I am sorry for the trouble with Blogger’s messaging service (now I have included an appropriate warning in the header of the comment window), but it seems that ultimately it was a felix culpa, for it has led to the birth of this post!
    In the following days I try to build out this “back door” so large that it would offer you an entrance to all the posts of the blog.
    What fascinated me in this issue of Azerbaijan International was not primarily its attempt to prove the authorship of Yusif Vazir – of which, being no specialist myself, I can only say that it brought up really convincing arguments while recognizing the hand of Essad Bey in the final, published version of 1937 -, but much more the thorough investigation of the sources behind the book and the identification of its scenes and motifs with spots and figures in early 20th-century Baku and Caucasus.
    This work, done by several dozens of contributors, has led to the accumulation of a very precious documentary and visual material, quite well presented in the volume: a proof for it are the illustrations of Río Wang’s post on Essad Bey, almost all taken from this issue of AI. In fact, I purchased this volume on the last day of my travel to Baku because, when hesitating in the bookshop between a number of monographs on the fascinating period of the city’s culture during the first oil boom, this one was definitely the most informative one in whatever language. I also intend to write more about its merits in a forthcoming post.
    I must also thank Martin Lehman for defending Río Wang, but I feel that absolutely no attack was done against it. Language Hat’s benevolent warning to me against becoming, for mere sympathy and on the basis of dubious arguments, an enthusiastic advocate of the cultural claims of a small nation is quite reasonable, as this danger always threatens the outsider when paddling on the troubled waters of those regions.

  18. I doubt that she’s taking any more exams; Pippa is, like dearieme, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. Dearieme played number eight for the Edinburgh University Veterinary School rugby team. Like Pippa, he’s not even a vet.

  19. What about this?: “Shock! Pippa passes kidney stone!”.

  20. Hat! How cruel can you be?!
    But two months ago I was given three books by/about Essad Bey. And here I am, 6,000 miles distant from them and without means to add anything useful to this thread.

  21. All right, but you can’t expect me to know the name of every little thing by Robert Browning. Anyway, I find “the snail’s on the thorn” to be a disturbing and unlikely image – poor snail. “Pippa passes sister in race up aisle” would be another possibility, but I don’t want to get in trouble with the feminist police.

  22. I find “the snail’s on the thorn” to be a disturbing and unlikely image – poor snail
    I have always assumed “the thorn” to be synecdoche for some snail-encouraging habitat. Rose bush maybe, or do they only harbor slugs ? If Browning had meant “poor snail”, he would have written “the snail’s nailed on the thorn”.
    But maybe it’s a Christ image after all !? That would be a suitable examination topic for an EngLit course.

  23. Then he should have written “the snail’s on the rose bush”. “The snail’s nailed” is pretty good, though; well done.

  24. Yes, well done. Half the reason I keep this place going is so you lot can have a convenient venue to display the wit for which you are notorious, especially in Milan, where even the bishops kick up their heels.
    Hat! How cruel can you be?!
    Cet animal est très méchant: quand on l’attaque il se défend.

  25. Although, to be fair, I started by sort of attacking his magazine, though even vigorous disagreement should not be construed as personal attack. But that’s life in the fast lane!

  26. Ali and Nini is exoticizing Azeris and Islam, while being sympathetic and knowledgeable. That’s a pretty unsurprising perspective when you know the author’s biography, but isn’t what you’d expect from an azeri. The exoticising/romiticizing is the heart of t he novel, and is persistent and never crude. It’s not the thing an editor could insert, I think.

  27. An excellent point.

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