Despite his being an ethnic Jew, his monarchist and anti-Socialist politics were such that, before his origins were discovered, the Nazi propaganda ministry included his works on their list of "excellent books for German minds".
Lev Nussimbaum fabricated a life that in its brief arc encompassed the whole of the Western and Near Eastern culture of his time. A Jew from the Caucasus, born in the first throes of the Russian Revolution, he styled himself a Muslim prince.
Reiss pursues two great narratives, one recounting Nussimbaum's life itself, the other following the author's quest to ferret from among myths and outright lies the truth of this man's life.
Along the way, readers absorb much about oil-rich Azerbaijan, the Russian Revolution, the rise of fascism, and the centuries-old clashes of cultures and religions in the Caucasus and Middle East. Digressions abound because of Nussimbaum's intricate, multicultural encounters. In the hands of a less adept writer, such complex history might grow opaque and tedious, but Reiss' storytelling flair and the utterly compelling character of Lev Nussimbaum turn this biography into a page-turner of epic proportions.
Read an excerpt from the book (PDF)
Reiss was born in 1964 and lived as a very young boy lived in Washington Heights, an area of New York City populated then by mostly German-speaking immigrant families. He grew up in Texas and Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard College. Before becoming a journalist had various jobs including bartender, security guard, actor in Japanese gangster movies, elementary school teacher and producer of industrial videos.
Reiss' first major book, was Führer-Ex; Memoirs of a Former Neo-Nazi, published in 1996 by Random House. Written with Ingo Hasselbach, it was the first inside exposé of the European neo-Nazi movement. It first appeared as a 21,000 word excerpt in The New Yorker.
Reiss is best known as the author of The Orientalist, a biography of Lev Nussimbaum, a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim while living in Germany during the years leading up to the Holocaust. Part history, part cultural biography, and part literary mystery, it tells the story of how Lev Nussimbaum escaped the Russian Revolution in a camel caravan and, as "Essad Bey" and "Kurban Said," became a celebrated adventurer and author of the enduring novel Ali and Nino-–a story of love across ethnic and religious boundaries, published on the eve of the Holocaust–is still in print today.