Set at the crossroads of Turkish, Persian and Russian cultures under the red flag of Communism in the late 1970s, The Orphan Sky reveals one woman’s struggle to reconcile her ideals with the corr...
Set at the crossroads of Turkish, Persian and Russian cultures under the red flag of Communism in the late 1970s, The Orphan Sky reveals one woman’s struggle to reconcile her ideals with the corrupt world around her, and to decide whether to betray her country or her heart.
Leila is a young classical pianist who dreams of winning international competitions and bringing awards to her beloved country Azerbaijan. She is also a proud daughter of the Communist Party. When she receives an assignment from her communist mentor to spy on a music shop suspected of traitorous Western influences, she does it eagerly, determined to prove her worth to the Party.
But Leila didn’t anticipate the complications of meeting Tahir, the rebellious painter who owns the music shop. His jazz recordings, abstract art, and subversive political opinions crack open the veneer of the world she's been living in. Just when she begins to fall in love with both the West and Tahir, her comrades force her to make an impossible choice.
California, June 2002
Music seemed to flow out of the painting. Piano arpeggios in scarlet layers. Violin pizzicati in gold and silver brushstrokes. A dark...
California, June 2002
Music seemed to flow out of the painting. Piano arpeggios in scarlet layers. Violin pizzicati in gold and silver brushstrokes. A dark D minor progression of chords sweeping by, trailed by a velvety soft harmony in white. Flutes spilling nostalgic blues and violets into the ever-changing palette of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 3.
I could see and hear music again; I could surrender to its colors and passions. Something I hadn’t been able to experience in twenty years. Since I buried my heart in the past. Since the sea of my destiny took me far away from the land of my childhood and washed me ashore, an empty shell without the trace of a pearl.
The painting was exhibited at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, on loan from the National Art Museum of Azerbaijan. The Times art critic praised it effusively in his article:
The application of broken colors, mineral-based pigments, and silver; the dramatic Caravaggio-like shift from dark to light; the mystical objects depicted in the tradition of ancient Persian miniatures—all these induce an extraordinary emotional effect. The painting—signed Maiden Tower—is a true masterpiece, created by an artist who possesses brilliant technique and unconstrained imagination. And what everyone who’s seen it wants to know is this: Who is this great master?
I knew. The moment I entered the showroom and saw the canvas, I knew.
Maiden Tower, obscured by the large crowd of spectators, dazzled by the relentless camera flashes, rose from the darkness of the stormy sea, fires breaking out of its sliver-like windows. A lonely princess—half human, half bird—standing on its crown, her wings reaching into the dome of the wakening sky.
And, appearing from behind the clouds, drowned in Caravaggio’s light, the face of a girl.
Many years ago, I sat for Tahir in a dingy, dark Kabul hotel room. With the roar and the flashes of artillery tearing up the sky outside. With the moon—the only source of light—peeking in through the grimy window. I can still smell the paint, trace Tahir’s strokes in the air. Painfully familiar, even after all this time.
A group of visitors, obviously VIP, approached, led by a short, stocky woman in a pink Chanel suit. I’d seen her before. The editor of a glossy magazine, Azerbaijan Today, published here in Los Angeles, and the curator of every Azeri event in America. She cleared space for her group, positioned herself firmly on her crimson stilettos, and began to speak in heavily accented English:
“Ten thousand years ago, the evil Shah of Darkness conquered the Land of Azerbaijan and ordered the building of a tower from the bottom of the Caspian Sea. When the tower reached the sky, every maiden was taken from her parents and locked inside to wait for the night of her wedding to the Shah. Darkness swallowed our land for many years until one morning when birdsong wakened the people of Azerbaijan. Fluttering vermilion feathers, the Firebird soared over Maiden Tower, leading the sun back to its rightful place in the firmament of the sky.”
The Legend of Maiden Tower—a tale from my childhood promising a triumphal finale at the end of a long struggle. Encouraging one to stand up to darkness and strive to reach for the skies. Something I had failed to do.
It was after five p.m. when I pulled onto the southbound 405 Freeway, together with the thousands of Angelenos heading back to their safe enclaves. Mine was Laguna Beach, a quaint California village of fishermen, artists, and jet-setters, lost between sunburned rocky canyons and the blue infinity of the Pacific Ocean. An ideal escape for someone running from the past.
I opened the door to my lonely villa and went to my spare room, empty except for the baby grand Bösendorfer buried in the corner under a thick cloak of dust.
How long had it been since I’d even touched it?
I wiped off the dust, lifted the lid, and stroked the keys, invading the mournful silence of the black-and-white keyboard. Playing the melody of the first theme from “Allegro ma non tanto.” Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 3.
Wakening the shadows.
“The story engages active readers who appreciate an intricate work of literature, and it rewards them with a wealth of suspense and intrigue, not to mention a swoon-worthy love story. El...
“The story engages active readers who appreciate an intricate work of literature, and it rewards them with a wealth of suspense and intrigue, not to mention a swoon-worthy love story. Ella Leya reaches to the heart with The Orphan Sky, a grasp that’s not likely to let go of its reader for some time.” - Chicago Book Review
“The Orphan Sky is a gripping, forceful novel that compels the reader onward. Well written and edited, the colorful descriptions and poignant relationships are haunting. As visceral and exotic as any spy novel and as authentically convincing as The Kite Runner, The Orphan Sky adroitly marries Cold War history with intrigue and young love. ” - New York Journal of Books
“The author deftly captures the paranoia and isolation of Red Russia... Leya's immersive novel speaks with authenticity. ” - Publishers Weekly
“The Orphan Sky is several things, the most obvious of which are a love story (and rather a good one), a coming-of-age novel and a story of the struggle for personal and artistic freedom in the dying decade of the USSR. ” - Asian Review of Books
“The vivid details of the setting and music will engage readers… A strong choice for readers of historical fiction.” - Library Journal
“The Orphan Sky is a timeless story of redemption and destiny, as authentic, disturbing, and brilliant as The Kite Runner. ” - Don Heckman, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Born in Baku, composer and singer turned first novelist Leya successfully depicts the grim realities of her birth city’s Soviet era as she depicts a harsh coming-of-age.” - Booklist
“Set amidst the backdrop of the Cold War, rich with culture and lyricism, The Orphan Sky is the moving story of one young woman’s rare talent, difficult lessons, and hard-won courage. Gripping and emotionally powerful.” - Shilpi Somaya Gowda, author of the New York Times bestseller Secret Daughter
“The Orphan Sky is a compelling Cold War novel that showcases the power of music as a force for change and breaking down barriers both spiritually and politically.” - Quincy Jones, Music Impresario, Humanitarian
“The Orphan Sky is a culturally intoxicating, emotionally gripping, and dazzlingly original book, filled with mythology, artistic metaphors, and masterful storytelling. It is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto 3 meets Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. I loved it!” - Mona Golabek, pianist, actress, and author of The Children of Willesden Lane: A Memoir of Music, Love and Survival
“An intriguing mix of romance, spying and hope – unforgettable reading.” - Scott Turow, New York Times bestselling author of Presumed Innocent
“ The Orphan Sky is a heady mix of Soviet politics, artistic temperament and historical destiny. Leila's journey from naïve school girl parroting Communist propaganda to passionate musician determined to gain personal freedom is poignant and impressive.” - Tracy Chevalier, New York Times bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Last Runaway
“I could hear the music while reading this extraordinary book. The Orphan Sky has everything a reader could want: the thrill of young romance, the tension of spying, and a window into a fascinating culture along with a glimpse into the captivating past of Azerbaijan.” - Deborah Rodriguez, author of New York Times bestseller Kabul Beauty School and Margarita Wednesdays
“This is one of those timeless stories of love, betrayal, and redemption that stay with you for years. The great theme of music transcending the darkness is at the heart of this powerful novel, with its soaring lyricism rooted deep in moral complexity.” - Maxim Vengerov, violinist, conductor, Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador
“A fascinating look at the oppression of creative artists in Azerbaijan in the Soviet era, based on the author’s own experiences, The Orphan Sky also beguiles with its atmospheric descriptions of the country’s enthralling ancient culture and legends.” - Helen Rappaport, New York Times bestselling author of The Romanov Sisters
Length: 8.25 in
Width: 5.5 in
Weight: 0.00 oz
Page Count: 368 pages