Azerbaijan International

Winter 2004 (12.4)
Pages10, 12, 14-15

Reader's Forum
"Ali & Nino" Copyright
by Leela Ehrenfels

1 "Ali and Nino" Covers: Novel is Published in 33 Languages ­ Betty Blair (AI 12.3)
2 Review: Inside the Soul of a Caucasian ­ Elin Suleymanov (AI 12.2)
3 Editorial: The World of "Ali and Nino" ­ It's Our World too! ­ Betty Blair (AI 12.2)
4 Baku City Tour: "Ali and Nino" Walking Tour - Fuad Akhundov and Betty Blair (AI 12.2)
5 Photo Essay: Then & Now: Baku 100 Years Ago at the Peak of Oil Baron Period (AI 12.2)
6 Article: How to Collect Kurban Said's Novel "Ali and Nino" ­ Betty Blair (AI 12.3)
7 Letter: "Ali & Nino" Rediscovered - Ismail Kafescioglu (AI 10.3)

Left: Leela Ehrenfels, who holds the copyright for "Ali & Nino", Vienna.

Quite by chance, I discovered the article, "Ali & Nino Walking Tour" by Betty Blair and Fuad Akhundov published in your magazine and now available on the Web. [Search, AI 12.2, Summer 2004]

To me this was a fortunate situation for more than one reason. First of all, it introduced me to your truly impressive magazine - Azerbaijan International. I'm beginning to learn so much about Baku and Azerbaijan - a place I have never visited but to which I am connected in various ways. It was fascinating to see the photos and learn some of the architectural history of the buildings of the actual places in Baku where much of the novel "Ali & Nino" takes place.

As you know, I am the holder of the copyright of the two novels, "Ali & Nino", as well as "The Girl From The Golden Horn", which first appeared German. "Ali & Nino" was published in Vienna by E. P. Tal & Co Verlag in 1937; "The Girl" followed as a Zinnen edition in 1938. Both were published under the pseudonym of "Kurban Said" and registered in my aunt's name.

Ali and Nino - Dutch
Right: Photo of Baroness Elfriede Ehrenfels von Bodmershof, who is registered with the pen name for Kurban Said, author of "Ali and Nino". This photo was taken in Vienna in 1931.

My aunt's real name was Elfriede von Ehrenfels (1894 -1982). She was a baronness born into the von Bodmershof family. In the year she was born, her family was granted the status of nobility by Kaiser Franz Joseph I (1830 -1916), king of Hungary and emperor of the Austrian empire. The Bodmershof name had once been Schuster (a very common name, meaning shoemaker). Her father served as Finanzprokurator, a top financial advisor for the emperor.

Below: Pseudonym Kurban Said registered as Elfried Ehrenfels von Bodmershof in 1937 in the Deuthcher Gesamtkatalog (German Collective Catalog), page 5336.

Elfriede Ehrenfels von Bodmershof - Ali and Nino copy rightIn English:
"German Collective Catalogue", New Titles, 1935 -1939, "S", meaning this section refers to the volume listing names starting with "S", for "Said". Berlin: Staatsbibliothek, 1940. Page 5336.

In German:
Deutscher Gesamtkatalog, "German Collective Catalogue". New Titles, 1935 -1939,"S" (for "Said") Berlin: Staatsbibliothek. p. 5336: "Said, Kurban. 1937 [Pseudonym for Elfriede Ehrenfels von Bodmershof, Baroness. [38.34682 a]

Elfriede Ehrenfels von Bodmershof - Ali and Nino copy right

I became the recipient of the copyright for "Ali & Nino" through an inheritance from Elfriede. This is especially meaningful to me since this little book has such a strong, relevant and timeless message in its potential to encourage people in finding ways to cooperate with each other and tolerate differences. The alternative is for us to pick up our guns and annhilate one another.

Regarding the article, "Kurban Said's novel, Ali & Nino", AI 12.3 (Autumn 2004, page 61), there are a few things that I would like to clarify. Elfriede von Ehrenfels was my aunt by marriage, not my mother, as the article states. This may be confusing as she also was married to my father Umar Rolf von Ehrenfels (1901-1980).

In other words, she and her brother Wilhelm (Bodmershof) married into the Ehrenfels family. She married Umar Rolf, and Wilhelm married Imma, who was Umar Rolf's sister. Essentially, this resulted in the two women exchanging their last names. This explains how Elfriede became my aunt.

My father converted to Islam in 1926 and was a devout follower until the end of his life. He was forced to flee Austria in 1938 when the Germans came looking for him for having written anti-Fascist articles. This took place just prior to World War II and the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria to Germany. In the end, Umar Rolf, fled to India. In the process of all this, the marriage between my father and Elfriede (who did not follow him there) disintegrated. Their divorce finally became official in the late 1940s. They had no children.

Elfriede Ehrenfels von Bodmershof - Ali and Nino copy rightIn English:
German Index of Books: A Compilation of Books, Magazines and Maps, published in German Booktrade, with an index and slogan register, edited by the Bibliographic Department of the Exchange Association of the German Booktraders in Leipzig.

Volume 21, 1936 till 1940. Title - Index: L-Z, Change of Publishing Houses, 1937 - 1943. Publishing House of the Exchange Association of the German Booktraders. 1943.

In German:
Deutsches Buecherverzeichnis: Eine Zusammenstellung der im Deutschen Buchhandel erschienenen Bücher, Zeitschriften und Landkarten Mit einem Stich - und Schlagwortregister.

Bearbeitet von der Biblio - graphischen Abteilung des Boersenvereins der Deutschen Buchhaendler zu Leipzig. 21 Band, 1936 - 1940. Titelverzeichnis L-Z, Anhang: Verlags - veraenderungen 1937 - 1943.

Elfriede Ehrenfels von Bodmershof - Ali and Nino copy rightRight: Baroness Elfriede von Bodmershof, listed for the pseudonym of Kurban Said as author of "Ali and Nino" (1937) and "Girl from the Golder Horn" (1938), both in German in Deutsches Bucherverzeichnis (German Index of Books).

Umar Rolf had been attracted to India from stories his mother told him during childhood. He subsequently spent 26 years there as an ethnologist and anthropologist, devoting his life to field research and to building up the Anthropology Department at the University of Madras. For his contribution to science and the Indian society, he was given honorary Indian citizenship. His main ethnological research related to studies tracing ancestral descent through matrilineal lineage, and the position of women in society, worldwide.

In India, my father eventually remarried, this time to a French woman, Mireille Abeille (born in 1924 in Marseille). She went on to assist him everywhere in his anthropological research, including the jungle. This woman is my mother and today lives in Lichtenau, Austria.

She had gone to India in the late 1950s after studying economics at Stanford University in California. While there, she was privately tutored in one of the Southern Indian languages - Malayalam. She eventually found her way to India to do socio-economic research related to South Indian Temples. In India, my mother and father were married in a Hindu ritual.

Another reason you may have thought I was Elfriede's daughter is that the copyright reads 1937 by Leela Ehrenfels. This is due to the fact that "Ali & Nino" was first published in 1937, and I inherited the copyright from its original publication, despite the fact that I wasn't born until nearly 30 years later.

As a matter of fact, over the years, various people have made claims to the copyright; for example, Lucy Tal, the widow of the publisher of the first German edition in Vienna never held the copyright despite her lawyer's claims in the 1970s.

Even these days, there are people who turn up, from time to time, claiming to be the "true" writer of the novel or, at least, to claim that they know who the "true" writer is.

As Elfriede's heiress, I would like to explain that the documents that I have in hand clearly show her as the holder of the pseudonym, "Kurban Said". Deutsches Buecherverzeichnis, the Exchange Association of the German Booktraders, founded in 1826, had already been existing for 118 years and continues up to this day.

At that time, the name of every writer, who published any book in Germany, and later, also in Austria, was automatically entered in this registry catalog that, like everything else, was controlled by the Nazis.

The original contract for publishing "Ali and Nino" was signed in 1937 between Elfriede Ehrenfels and E.P. Tal, the publisher. We have documents to show this as well.

I am aware of the many discussions and claims being made about the identity or person behind the fictictious name, "Kurban Said", and I feel that more must be said about Elfriede. I'm convinced it is essential to examine her role and analyze her work in the context of what was going on in Europe at the time. This has been part of the journey that I have undertaken since inheriting the copyright. It seems that it is now my responsibility to share more of what I have learned about this truly impressive woman.

Thank you for the inspiring work that you are doing with Azerbaijan International. This magazine has been a delightful revelation to me. It is thrilling for me that "Ali & Nino" has now been published in 24 languages, and has more than 100 editions and reprints, making it the most widely published book in Azerbaijan's history!

Editor's note: As of January 2008 the novel "Ali and Nino" has been published in 30 languages.

The love story of an Azerbaijani son of an Oil Baron (Muslim) and a Georgian princess (Christian), which is set in Baku on the turbulent eve of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918, serves today as a beacon of hope that people do have the capacity to bridge the gap between what really are outer or superficial differences in social, traditional and religious practices. The story of "Ali & Nino" is a message of love and tolerance. I'm convinced that the more people know this novel, the more they are likely to realize that the only solution to our present-day world problems lies in peace.

Leela Ehrenfels
Vienna, Austria

Editor: Plans are being made to publish a major article with Leela in Azerbaijan International about the role of Elfriede Ehrenfels in the creation of "Ali & Nino". To view more than 90 covers of the "Ali & Nino" editions in 30 languages, or to take the "Ali & Nino Walking Tour", search "Kurban Said" at

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