The Orphan Sky

A Book Review

book cover of the orphan sky

The Orphan Sky, by Ella Leya

Leila Badalbeili is a fifteen-year-old classical pianist, a child prodigy and the darling of Soviet society in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, in 1979.


Azerbaijan, a country bounded by the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, is at this time in the grip of Soviet communism. Its culture is a fusion of Turkish, Persian and Russian influences.

An only child, Leila is the beloved daughter of her papa, Halil, an oil baron enjoying a privileged lifestyle even under communism thanks to the legacy of his father, a great communist hero who sacrificed his life to the cause. Her mother, Sonia, a stunning woman and a renowned paediatric surgeon, is elusive and distant with Leila.      

Wrapped in a cottonwool world of political brainwashing, public adulation, family privilege and paternal adoration, Leila is unaware of the political machinations of the regime, or of the betrayals occurring around her. Then her eyes begin to open, in unexpected ways, when she is required to spy on a young man whom the Communist Party suspect of selling ‘decadent’ Western music in his recently opened shop. Delighted at being given such responsibility within the Party, she zealously sets out to entrap the suspect.


Inexplicably drawn to the young man, an artist, whom she privately nicknames Aladdin – at their first meeting he is sitting cross-legged upon an Afghani rug enveloped in a cloud of hashish smoke – she finds herself tussling with her long-held beliefs. Tahir, his real name, and Leila form an immediate connection, instinctively understanding and communicating with each other as fellow artists.

On the outside, they are worlds apart, she a privileged member of the social order because of her family connections, he an outcast regarded with hatred and suspicion because of his.

Leila develops a double, even triple life. In her political life, Leila is confused and repulsed by the increasingly sexual advances of her superior, Farhad, who takes advantage of his position and her innocence. He aspires to be part of the dreaded Soviet intelligence agency, the KGB, and to claim her as his wife when she is of age. In her family life, she sees a different side to her father when she attempts to defy him over Farhad’s successful petition for her hand in marriage. The times she spends with Tahir are the only occasions she really feels herself.

Collision of Worlds in The Orphan Sky

When, inevitably, all three worlds collide, Leila is forced to choose between them and to make an awful decision with far-reaching repercussions.

Against a backdrop of poetry and music, art and ideals, politics, propaganda and corruption, The Orphan Sky spans almost four decades. Leila experiences public and personal falls from grace, tragedies and betrayals, impossible decisions: will she be able to reconcile her very different worlds and finally find meaning in her life – even love?

The author cleverly and subtly foreshadows significant events in The Orphan Sky so that the reader only becomes aware of these later.

A beautiful, lyrical, heart-in-your-mouth read.

The Orphan Sky, Ella Leyla, 2015, Sourcebooks Landmark, Illinois.

About the Author of The Orphan Sky

Ella Leya is a composer and singer. She was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, and moved to the United States in 1990.

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