By Heshani G. Arachchige
Bodies, Borders, Believers is a new title from James Clarke & Co. this June honouring Turid Karlsen Seim, the first woman to achieve a doctoral degree in theology from a Norwegian university. It presents a collection of essays that adhere to her academic interests, exploring themes such as gender analysis, bodily practises and ecumenical dialogue. To give you a clear idea of the range of topics explored in the book, Professor Bernadette J. Brooten of Brandeis University Scholars puts it best when she states that the book’s ‘scholars explore the borders between life and death, women and men, and Christians and Muslims; and discuss how belief can unite, not just divide’.
These very themes build Kurbain Said’s tale of Ali and Nino. The book is about a Muslim boy from the East and a Christian girl from the West – individuals from opposite sides of a border raised by differing beliefs – who are able to grasp a notion that the world of contradiction around them cannot; their understanding that differences should be respected as much as similarities draw the two together through love. After numerous conflicting events, the couple come to marry and have a child; however, their story is based within the time period just prior to Soviet rule and Ali is intent on defending his homeland of Azerbaijan. He meets death just before the Bolsheviks take his country, and Nino leaves the reader in Georgia with their daughter. While labeled a romance, the book throws the notion of love into a time defined by conflict, and it is this backdrop of a negative against a positive that enhances the significance of the romance within readers’ minds; the novel was such a success that it was translated, from its original German tongue, into over thirty languages.
So powerful did Tamara Kvesitadze find the tale of the two lovers that she created a towering metal sculpture depicting the affair. Built in 2007 after being inspired by the novel, the sculpture was renamed from “Man and Woman” to “Ali and Nino” in 2010 to dedicate itself completely to Said’s lovers. Located in Georgia, the sculpture towers twenty-six feet tall; a man and woman stand at some distance from one another until the seventh hour of each afternoon, when they move towards each other. The sculptures are designed in such a way that the two bodies slot perfectly into one another; after embracing and merging into one, the two bodies are moved onwards, through and away from one another, separating just as they did in the novel. However, the way in which the two unite to form something stronger than what they are individually represents the significance of the unity between Ali and Nino who, on paper, would have appeared as two astonishingly separate ends of a spectrum due to their differing backgrounds and upbringing. Said, however, took the differences as strengths, just as the scholars of Bodies, Borders, Believers explore differing genders, forces and religions and consider that the differences have the power to create strength by uniting.