“Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”, wrote Rudyard Kipling. The colourful life of Achmed Abdullah (12 May 1881 – 12 May 1945) says otherwise. This year marks 70 years since his death and 134 years since his birth. To celebrate the author’s life, we’re offering a hardback copy of The Thief of Bagdad (1924) with every purchase over £5 from our website.
He was born as Alexander Nicholayevitch Romanoff in Yalta, a city on the Crimean peninsula. His father, Grand Duke Nicholas Romanoff, was a cousin of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his mother, Princess Nourmahal Durani, was the daughter of the Amir of Afghanistan. The royals had a fiesty relationship which caused Alexander and his sister to leave Russia for Afghanistan, where they would live with their uncle, who renamed his nephew Achmed Abdullah Nadir Khan el-Durani el Iddrissyeh. Raised by the Russian Orthodox Church, Achmed was now a Muslim but would later abandon both for Catholicism.
He came to school in England wearing a turban and earrings, and carrying a dagger in his boot; which dagger he confesses, was plunged into the arm of a schoolmate with whom he had quarrelled; nor could he see the justice of the sound thrashing he subsequently received from his headmaster! But some acquaintance with Eton and Oxford, and service in the British-Indian army, into which he was gazetted in 1900, did their part in bringing about a change of ideas and that union of East and West which has been accomplished with the years. Nowadays, the turban has been exchanged for a silk top hat and the earrings and dagger for a monocle and a clouded cane. Almost, it seems, the Afghan leopard has changed its spots!
Abdullah’s cultural malleability allowed him to serve in China, Tibet, Russia, Eastern Europe, France, India and Africa for the British Army. Shortly after leaving the ranks he joined the Turkish Army and fought in the First Balkans War (1912-1913). Subsequently, he committed himself to writing fiction. The Thief of Bagdad (1924) was released as a novel and film in the same year, the latter being the most successful. Douglas Fairbanks stars as sticky-fingered Ahmed, a man who does and takes what he pleases. Love blossoms between him and the caliph’s daughter, but their romance is seemingly quashed when royalty arrives in Baghdad to ask for her hand in marriage…
The film has become a cult classic due to its incredible depiction of the Orient. As the author informs us it is “a tale of adventures, exploits and love, assuming the character of something epic and fabulous, something close-woven to the golden loom of the desert in both pattern and sweep of romance…”