Troubled Water

Jens Mühling

Translated from German by Simon Pare

Haus Publishing / Armchair Traveller
Oct 2021

Troubled Water

Dramatic conflicts, migrating populations, changing fortunes. Decades of political and cultural pressure under communism. The encroachment of climate change and globalisation. For centuries, the Black Sea has been at the centre of a shifting kaleidoscope of stories.

Visiting every country around the coast, Jens Mühling explores nations both ancient and nascent, connecting with local people and landscapes, following their stories, and discovering the startling sights of this multifaceted region. He portrays minority populations who vie proudly for respect and autonomy, and depicts a region of never-ending social and ecological transformation – from gradual evolutions to the stark shockwaves of displacements and invasions. Ultimately, Mühling shows the peoples and places of this region are much like the sea around which they converge: restless, enigmatic, underestimated, and captivating.


I’ve seen the Black Sea from all sides, and from none of them was it black.
It was silvery as I drove along the deserted beaches of the Russian Caucasus coast in the spring, as silvery as the skin of the dolphins hugging the shore as they pursued shoals of fish northwards.
It turned blue in May as I reached Georgia, the ancient Colchis of Greek legend, where the beaches are black but not the water.
In Turkey it seemed to take on the green of the tea plantations and hazelnut groves along its shores, and it was still green when I reached the Bosporus in late summer.
The first storms of autumn coloured it brown as the birds headed south and the tourists headed home over the Bulgarian coast.
In Romania’s Danube delta the sky seemed to hang so low over the sea that its lead-grey colour rubbed off on the water.
When I reached Ukraine, the waves scraped dirt-grey ice along the beaches.
Only in Crimea did the winter sun brighten the sea again, and here it assumed the hue it will forever have in my memory – a cloudy, milky green, like a soup of algae and sun cream.


‘An exuberant travelogue that reveals the complex civilizations that surround the Black Sea…. Simon Pare’s vibrant translation from the original German brings out the literary qualities of the prose.’ (starred review) —Foreword Reviews

'A brisk and brilliant tour.' —The Telegraph

Mühling makes for an observant and often wry travelling companion, conversant in several of the region’s languages. Interview with Jens at —The Washington Post

'“Troubled Water” is not, in a conventional sense, a history book (for that, I’d turn to Neal Ascherson’s classic “Black Sea”), but the book is an excellent introduction to a complex, heavily layered, bitterly contested and often rewritten past.' —Wall Street Journal

‘In this brilliant and humane journey, Jens Mühling explores the nations, societies and minorities jostling passionately around the Black Sea’ —Neal Ascherson, author of 'Black Sea'

‘"Troubled Water" takes the reader on a fascinating journey along the patchworked coasts of the Black Sea … With learnedness and wry humour, Jens Mühling explores the harbours and coves of this famed, yet obscure body of water, masterfully rendering the vibrant colours and proportions of an ocean of epic events and of small, yet tall tales.’ —Erika Fatland, author of 'The Border: A Journey Around Russia'

Jens Mühling’s travel book "Troubled Water" (...) gracefully translated by Simon Pare... —The Times Literary Supplement


    Shortlisted for the 2022 Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from the German