In This Review

Black Sea
Black Sea
By Neal Ascherson
Hill And Wang, 1995, 306 pp.

Can one man's fascination with a body of water and the civilizations along its shores be made fascinating to the many? It sure can. One comes away from this book nearly as obsessed as its author and a little dazed. Though in the course of the book Ascherson transports the reader all along the northern reaches of the Black Sea, from Crimea to Odessa and the Danube basin, around the Georgian shore and down to the cities of eastern Turkey, this is not a travelogue. Nor is it a systematic history of these areas. Rather, it is a dazzling, intriguing mJlange of literary references, historical episodes, personal adventures, and recent political events. The material is so skillfully blended that the trail seems natural from Hitler's crazy ideas about a unique Jewish people in the Crimean mountains to Euripides' derivation of Medea, his "paradigm of barbarian womanhood," from Colchis on the southeastern shores of the Black Sea. The passage is just as easy from the Scythians, who came before the Huns, to the bus on which the author sat, moving through the Crimean night, wondering about the flashing lights of an ambulance guarding an intersection not far from Foros, where, unknown to Ascherson, Gorbachev was being held hostage.