Kapka Kassabova, winner of the 2018 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for her book Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe
Kapka Kassabova has written an extraordinary book, an important contribution to the urgent debate about global cultural understanding. Border has an original, compelling narrative which explores the notion of the border, not just as a frontier but as a psychological and cultural dynamic. The book is a description of a meeting place between past and present, peoples, culture and nature, written in a mesmerising style, peopled with vivid characters and full of sharply drawn encounters. Border invests the theme of cultural understanding with a magical quality, mixing observation, biography and lyricism.Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize jury, October 2018
When Kapka Kassabova was a child, the border zone between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece was rumoured to be an easier crossing point into the West than the Berlin Wall so it swarmed with soldiers, spies and fugitives. On holidays close to the border on the Black Sea coast, she remembers playing on the beach, only miles from where an electrified fence bristled, its barbs pointing inwards toward the enemy: the holiday-makers, the potential escapees.
Today, this densely forested landscape is no longer heavily militarised, but it is scarred by its past. In Border, Kapka Kassabova sets out on a journey to meet the people of this triple border – Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks, and the latest wave of refugees fleeing conflict further afield. She discovers a region that has been shaped by the successive forces of history: by its own past migration crises, by communism, by two World Wars, by the Ottoman Empire, and – older still – by the ancient legacy of myths and legends. As Kapka Kassabova explores this enigmatic region in the company of border guards and treasure hunters, entrepreneurs and botanists, psychic healers and ritual fire-walkers, refugees and smugglers, she traces the physical and psychological borders that criss-cross its villages and mountains, and goes in search of the stories that will unlock its secrets.
Border is a sharply observed portrait of a little-known corner of Europe, and a fascinating meditation on the borderlines that exist between countries, between cultures, between people, and within each of us. Read an extract from Border.
Kapka Kassabova was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, university educated in New Zealand, and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. She is a poet and the author of the acclaimed memoirs Street Without a Name (2008) and Twelve Minutes of Love (2011). She has written for the Sunday Times, the Guardian, Vogue, and 1843 magazine. Border won the Saltire and Stanford-Dolman Book of the Year, the Highland Book Prize, and was shortlisted for the Baillie-Gifford, Ondaatje, Duff Cooper, Bread and Roses and Gordon Burn Prizes, and the American National Circle of Critics Award.
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