Troubled Water by Jens Mühling, Tr. Simon Pare

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Whenever Mühling traces the outline of the Black Sea with a finger the shape reminds him of a horse head with the muzzle nosing Georgia. , the ear in between Ukraine and Russia and the neck is the Bosporus. It is an ancient landscape where, if you know where to look, you can still find traces of the Greeks amongst all the other shifting peoples that have populated its coasts.

He was unsure where to start the journey though and after some deliberation chose a place a little away from the coastline at the foot of Mount Ararat. It was here that the is a grain of truth in the legends that link the mountain to the sea and those are the flood stories that tell of the time before there was water and of the arrival of the floods. Before long it was time to head to Russia to see the sea for himself once again.

I have seen the Black Sea from all sides, and from none of them was it black.

At the bridge in Taman, he stood at one end, if everything went to plan, the next time he sees it would be from the other side having taken a long way round and not crossed it. After seeing a dog drink from the sea he tested the water to see how salty it was and was surprised to find it is mostly freshwater. It was a habit that he would carry on with all the way around and notice that the brackishness increases the further west he goes.

The borders in the regions have changed many times and even now are still changing and on his travels around the sea finds Turks in Russia, and Greeks who speak Turkish in Russia. As he travels around the Black Sea he finds that the cultures have their distinct differences and yet blend into each other. In Georgia, he watches as the oldest trees are collected by the oligarch for his private property and is scared to death by a driver as he is in their car heading towards the Romanian border. He finds all of the people he meets welcoming and often willing to ply him with drink of varying quality…

I thought this was a really good mix of travelogue and reportage from Mühling as he finds his way around the countries surrounding the Black Sea. He has a way of engaging with the people that he meets that brings the best out of them. His openness with them means that they respond well and he gets taken to places that he might not have had the opportunity to see as a regular tourist. As a side note, I think that the translation is really good too, Pare has picked up on the nuance that  Mühling had in his original text.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Oh, this sounds really good, just the kind of book I like.

    • Paul

      Would recommend reading it in conjunction with Caroline Eden’s Black Sea

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