When Literary Space parts Ways with Physical Geography for a Critical Benefit: The Missing Islands of the Black Sea

Main Article Content

Eyüp Özveren


Among the most important factors that differentiate the fortunes of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean comes the role the islands played in history. Whereas numerous islands served as stepping stones in connecting the lands surrounding the Mediterranean, thereby facilitating their integration, their conspicuous absence in the Black Sea became a formidable obstacle in an already notoriously inhospitable sea. The Black Sea has only very few islands, fewer of them are inhabited, and those by only a small number of people. In any case, they disappear from sight in maps because of the scale effect, as they are quite small by geographical standards. There is thus no puzzle to intrigue our minds, and physical geography can count them out easily. Human geography is another matter, where even the very few could matter.

More relevant for us here is the importance the ‘missing’ islands can acquire albeit in a literary space. This paper explores two path – breaking novels that deliberately contest the historical legacies of this geography by inventing and introducing islands that incite the reader’s imagination for a critical reflection on the other courses history could have taken, what historians and social scientists call the ‘historical alternatives’. This paper focuses on Vassily Aksyonov (1981, 1983)’s The Island of Crimea and Aka Morchiladze (2004, 2006)’s Santa Esperanza. The former engages the reader on a counterfactual exercise with Crimea becoming an island off the coast of Soviet Russia, inspired by Communist China troubled by a maverick Taiwan at arm’s length. The latter has a more nuanced and sophisticated formulation where a British dominion of three islands comes into being and survives as safe haven for multicultural coexistence as long as it could, in relation with the fragilities imposed across the sea. Fictive islands can thus sometimes play a greater role than real islands.

Published: Nov 14, 2022

Article Details

How Can Literature Change the Geography? European Globality and the Black Sea/Ge