Lev Nussimbaum and The Pseudonym “Kurban Said”
When Lev Nussimbaum, still in his early 30s at the time, began confronting the possibility of his own death from Buerger’s Disease, he set out to write his own autobiography, entitling it, “The Man who Knew Nothing about Love” (Der Mann der von der Liebe nichts verstand). He signed it, “Kurban Said.” Though never published, "Der Mann" was advertised in 1937 as though it actually had been published and was available for purchase. This was the same year that "Ali and Nino" appeared.
Tom Reiss, author of "The Orientalist" concludes that since "The Man Who Knew Nothing about Love" was the work of Lev Nussimbaum, then he was also the author of Ali and Nino. However, even Reiss warns his readers that Nussimbaum’s own statements about his own identity were the least credible. “Years of collecting every shred of evidence I could of his existence revealed that…Lev’s simplest statements about himself—name, race, nationality—are the ones that can least be trusted.” It is not impossible that Nussimbaum was, in signing "Der Mann" as Kurban Said, appropriating a 'nom de plume' already in use.
Close examination suggests that one should be cautious about equating Lev Nussimbaum with other works published by "Kurban Said." Research indicates that Essad Bey did have his fingers in the "Ali and Nino" narrative, particularly in descriptive folkloric and legendary passages which often contained erroneous material but that the original manuscript of "Ali and Nino" did not originate with him but with the Azerbaijani writer Yusif Vazir Chamanzaminli (1887–1942). At issue is whether Lev Nussimbaum was within his rights to use the pseudonym, and whether the name actually originated with him.
The problem with the “Der Mann” narrative is that though it started out as a semi-autobiographical account, it quickly lapsed into a tale of vengeance within a fictional framework about a “Dr. X.” Even Reiss admits that “Der Mann” is a “sprawling, improbable tale.” This, in turn, casts doubt on Lev Nussimbaum's claims to the rightful use of the pseudonym, "Kurban Said."
Dr. Wilfried Fuhrmann in Germany has transcribed and published all six of the hand-written German “Der Mann” Notebooks. He concludes that Notebooks 3 and 6 are the most damaging to Essad Bey’s reputation. “To varying degrees, they are a mixture of malice and slander, as well as pathological hubris and arrogance.”
For example, Essad Bey suggests that any woman who commits adultery should be tied up in a sack with a wild cat and thrown into the Bosphorus, or buried up to her head in the desert sands to be devoured at night by wild dogs. At the time, Nussimbaum was going through a scandalous divorce with his own wife Erika Loewendahl. However, the content and spirit of “Ali and Nino” which was published at the same time as Der Mann was advertised as being published (1937) is entirely the opposite, and Ali Khan truly was in love with Nino and did everything within his capability to foster her development and well-being. In truth, the two narratives are so unlike each other that it is impossible to imagine them being written by the same person.
Essad Bey signed his Final Will as "Essad Bey also known as Leo Nussimbaum and Lev Nussenbaum." No mention whatsoever is made of "Kurban Said." Essad Bey signed this Will (July 27, 1941) about a year before he died (August 27, 1942) and four years after Ali and Nino (1937) had been published.
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