Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea

By Jens Mühling

Recommended on: 24th May 2022

Barb glanced at the title of this book and thought, “The last thing I need is to be diving into, (amidst the hundreds of samples already downloaded onto the Kindle), is a book about the Black Sea.” Out of curiosity, she took a look at the first couple pages, and suddenly she was one hundred pages in, hooked by Mühling’s combination of scintillating prose (which comes across even in the translation by  Simon Pare from the original German) and remarkable ability to bring out fascinating bits of local lore and culture.  Troubled Water, as it turns out, is a compendium not only of adventure travel (fortunately, Mühling has a remarkable talent for holding his alcohol), but also of semi-forgotten and little-known groups. We learn, for example, of the Karaites, a Jewish religious movement that recognizes the written Torah alone as its supreme authority in Jewish religious law and theology (this subtle difference in beliefs protected the Crimean Kariates from the Nazis in World War II). And we learn how successful Russian efforts to foment divisiveness in Abkhazia has kept that gorgeous region from helping its people progress. Mühling has no more than to hear about an outlying cultural group, whether it’s Turks in Romania, Bulgarians in Turkey, Greeks in Russia, or simply a hermit, and off he goes on the hunt to meet them. Mühling’s serviceable Russian is extremely helpful in these parts of the world, but it’s a lucky thing that Mühling is Germanit allows him to gain insights and confidences that many writers in English miss.  And we learn of all sorts of other aspects of the biology of the Black Seafor example, the fact that its unusual top layer of fresh water and bottom layer of salt makes a poisonous mixture that leaves three-thousand-year old sunken vessels as fresh as if they had sunk yesterday. 

If you want a “you are there” reading experience that gives you a good feel for a vitally important region, you couldn’t do better than to read Jens Mühling’s fantastic Troubled Water. Highly recommended!



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