Book Review: This Blessed Land

This Blessed Land: Crimea And The Crimean Tartars, by Paul Robert Magosci

It is clear that the author thought he was writing a book that would bring praise to the Crimean Tartars for their resilience in the face of generations of difficulties. That this is not the case is due to several matters. For one, this book suffers as many historical books suffer from chronological snobbery in that the most interesting parts of this book are the beginning parts of the book where the author reveals the complexity of the history of the Crimea and its peoples over the course of thousands of years of history. Even the beginning portion of the discussion of the history of the Crimean Khanate and its relationship with Nogai and the Ottomans is highly interesting. Unfortunately, most of the book focuses on the last century or so of Crimea under the rule of the Russians, and briefly the Germans in World War II, as well as the suffering faced by the Tartars because of Russia’s actions, and that is lamentable. The author also stumbles in making statements like saying that slavery under the Ottomans wasn’t so bad for Slavs because there was a chance they might become in charge of a harem, or castrated for service as eunuchs or sent to work and die in salt mines. Being a slavery apologist for the cruelty of Turkish rule does not speak well for a writer speaking on behalf of a small nation struggling against Russian oppression.

This book is a short one at about 150 pages or so, and it begins with a discussion of what the Crimea is. After that there is an opening chapter that discusses the birth of the land (1), followed by a chapter that talks about the incident of the ancient history of the peninsula as it is ruled by a succession of mostly obscure and sometimes surprising peoples (2). A single chapter covers the entire period where the area was ruled by Kipchaks, Mongols, Tartars, and Italians (3). This is followed by a chapter dealing with the history of the Crimean Khanate (4). After this, another chapter covers Crimea in the Russian Empire (5), where the Tatar population dwindled in relative and absolute terms. This is covered by a discussion of Crimea during the Russian Revolution (6) as well as in the early Soviet period (7). An entire chapter is devoted to Crimea during World War II (8), some of which deals with the thorny question of the loyalties and behavior of the Karaites, before the exile of the Tatars under Stalin in the postwar period (9) as well as Crimea in independent Ukraine (10) finish the main material of the book. After this there notes, suggestions for further reading, and illustration sources and credits.

Ultimately, this book is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the beauty of the Crimean peninsula and the worth of its history is conveyed rather well by the author, though it would have been better for this book to have focused far more on history as well as geography and the culture of the Crimeans themselves and far less on the history of Czarist and Soviet and Nazi Crimea and the various recriminations and shenanigans that happened then. On the other hand, this book is far too filled with politics to convey much information about the Crimean people themselves. It seems as if the author forgets that one of the most compelling aspects of the book and the book’s material is in fact the Crimean people themselves. There is also some inconsistency in the way that the author seeks to claim credit for the cultural contribution of those who are not Crimean Tatars on the one hand while writing from the perspective of the Tartars themselves. What matter is it that the author can name and give details about decades of politics in the Crimean peninsula if none of those politics are particularly interesting to people who are not themselves Tartars?

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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