Landmark book on Soviet-era Baku launched at Waterstone’s flagship store

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The landmark book 'The Orphan Sky' – the first western novel on Azerbaijan to be published since 'Ali and Nino' in 1937 – has been launched at Waterstone's flagship store in Piccadilly, London. The book was presented by author Ella Leya and the event was organised by The European Azerbaijan Society.

Ella Leya outlines her novel

Jazz singer, pianist – and now novelist – Ella Leya outlined the motivation behind her debut novel

The Orphan Sky is my journey back to Baku, the fairy-tale city of my childhood.

'The Orphan Sky' – the debut novel by the renowned Hollywood composer, singer, pianist and Baku native Ella Leya – was launched on 27 May at Waterstone’s flagship store in Piccadilly, London. The launch was organised by The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) and attended by around 100 bibliophiles, Azerbaijanis and friends of Azerbaijan. A resident in the US for many years, Ella now divides her time between California and London.

Set in 1979 Soviet-era Azerbaijan, the novel tells the story of Leila, a piano prodigy, who is asked to infiltrate a music shop run by Tahir, a Bohemian artist, who is suspected of being an American spy. Based on real and imagined incidents, the book skilfully combines the essence of Azerbaijani myths and legends with Soviet paranoia.

Recently, the Los Angeles Review of Books described the novel as “…a timeless story of redemption and destiny, as authentic, disturbing and brilliant as 'The Kite Runner'.” Tracy Chevalier, author of 'Girl with a Pearl Earring', summed up the essence of the story as: “a heady mix of Soviet politics, artistic temperament and historical destiny.” Music legend Quincy Jones said: “This is a compelling Cold War novel that showcases the power of music as a force for change, both spiritually and politically.”

Following an introduction by Dr Sabina Rakcheyeva, Arts and Cultural Advisor, TEAS, Ella explained: “Nostalgia for faraway places, times and people has always been a powerful source of inspiration for us, the artists. 'The Orphan Sky' is my journey back to Baku, the fairy-tale city of my childhood. The novel is many things – an idealistic coming-of-age story set amidst the stark realities of the Soviet era; the romance of a 20th century Romeo and Juliet separated by families and Communism; and a window into the fascinating culture, history and ancient soul of the Land of Fire. Although I have been an American for 25 years, I have never ceased to remain the daughter of my native country. I am now proud that 'The Orphan Sky' has taken me on a mission to introduce Azerbaijan to my Western audiences.”

The launch was followed by a lively and thought-provoking question-and-answer session and light refreshments, during which attendees had the opportunity to hear selections from Ella’s albums, recorded in Russian, Hebrew and English.

To order a copy of 'The Orphan Sky' and to find out more about Ella Leya, go to

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