In the summer of 1991, a group of senior Communist conspirators seized Mikhail Gorbachev at his summer home in the Crimea. Instead of reinstating hardline Communist rule, the incident led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Neal Ascherson was travelling on a coach through the area at the time, and the incident made him aware of the importance of the region: the place where East meets West. From this starting point, Ascherson takes the reader on a dazzling journey around the shores of the Black Sea. He revisits its earliest history – anchors dropped by Mycenaean ships still lie on the seabed; Classical times – the poet Ovid was exiled to what is now the coast of Romania; and Byzantium – when caviar was so abundant it was a poor man’s food, and the bonito fish was so significant it featured on the Eastern Empire’s coins.
Neal Ascherson chronicles the tumultuous history of the sea where East meets West. He recalls Ovid’s exile on its shores, charts Scythian wayfarers, Stalinist purges and Hitler’s vision of a German Gothic Crimea. His thoughtful book ends by considering the sea’s damaged ecology – perhaps to be its final tragedy.
Maggi Gibson has been writing and teaching creative writing for 25 years. A graduate of Glasgow University, she first worked as a teacher of French & German. She also specialized in working with teenagers with behavioural problems. She has held three Scottish Arts Council Fellowships and one Royal Literary Fund Fellowship. Currently the Makar of the City of Stirling, she was a Scottish Arts Council Bursary recipient in 2007. She co-organises DiScOmBoBuLaTe, evenings of literature and comedy with her husband, Ian Macpherson. She lives in Glasgow.