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THE BEST BOOKS OF 1996 | NONFICTION

December 29, 1996|CZESLAW MILOSZ | Czeslaw Milosz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. His most recent book is "Facing the River: New Poems" (Ecco Press). He lives in Berkeley

"Black Sea" (Hill and Wang) by British journalist Neal Acherson, seduced me with its panorama of centuries and millenniums lived by inhabitants of little-known lands. It was like going back to the near-fairy tales of Herodotus about the Greek colonies along the northern shores of the Black Sea and their encounter with another civilization, the nomadic Scythians. I found in this book my old acquaintance Scyles, a Scythian chief from 2,600 years ago, who became so taken by the Greek way of life that he made offers to Greek gods and was killed for that offense by his tribe. (Long ago I even wrote a poem about Scyles).

All the shores of the Black Sea attract Acherson's attention with their legends and riddles. He searches for facts using chronicles and archeological excavations. His book made me feel an enormous scope of space and time beyond the area carved by our 20th century geography and history.

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