An atlas of unusual borders

Review of Zoran Nikolić: The Atlas of Unusual Borders. Glasgow 2019: Collins.

Zoran Nikolić’s new book has the subtitle “Discover intriguing boundaries, territories and geographical curiosities” written on its cover. It is definitely a book for you, no matter if you think you already know everything worth knowing about this topic. Being a “border freak” myself, I enjoyed equally much reading about border areas that I have visited myself, or know of, as well as about geographical curiosities that were new to me. And there were surprisingly many of the latter, I have to admit. Nikolić’s book was finished early this year, so in addition to learning about “new” places, it was nice to get new information about several “old” ones as well.

It was a great pleasure to read the background and concise presentation of the border areas and curiosities that Nikolić has chosen for his book. These include places such as Brezovica, Caprivi Strip, Diomede Islands, La Cure, Likoma, Lutepää Triangle, Märket, Nahwa, North Sentinel Island, Northwest Angle, Oil Rocks, Passport Island, Pheasant Island, Ruitzhof, and Sokh, just to list a few.

How many of the above places do you know of, and also the significance of? The map shown on the book cover, to give you the answer to one of the places, is that of Märket, an island divided between Finland and Sweden. The island is very small, only about 300 metres long and less than 150 metres wide, yet the border that zigzags across the island is about 450 metres long! The amusing story behind this odd drawing of an international border is, of course, told in the book.

This book comprises an impressive amount of interesting and entertaining facts which I won’t go into here. But, as always, it is almost impossible to prevent mistakes from slipping into the text. For example, the three-sided table decorated with three coats of arms is not the actual tripoint of Austria, Hungary and Slovakia, as suggested in the book; it is just a symbolic tripoint marker on Austrian territory. Or maybe one should call it a sculpture, as this particular border area is in fact a sculpture park. But the table is very close to the real tripoint, i.e. the exact place where these three countries meet.

At the end of the book there is a glossary that lists two dozen or so important geographical concepts as well as their definitions. There is also a map key that clarifies the signs and colour codes used. Although the maps are simplified and yet very informative, it took me a while from time to time to “translate” some of them into the kind of maps that I’m used to and that I can easily understand – where water features are blue, not white or yellow as in the book, and where land is any other colour but blue. A subject index would also have been very helpful, one where the reader could quickly find the relevant page/s where, for example, specific countries and/or place names are mentioned.

I cannot finish this review without pointing out that Finland did not gain independence after the Second World War, as the book claims. As all Finns know, Finland became an independent republic after the First World War. Nevertheless, in my opinion this book is definitely a must for everyone who is even slightly interested in not only international but also national borders.

Rolf Palmberg [November 2019]