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2018 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize

Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize

The winner

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
Border: A Journey to the Edge of EuropeKapka Kassabova

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.

The shortlist

The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason by Christopher de Bellaigue (UK, The Bodley Head) 

The Islamic EnlightenmentChristopher de Bellaigue

Christopher de Bellaigue brilliantly introduces the key ideas, cities and figures that shaped modern Islam.

Read an extract from The Islamic Enlightenment and check out our interview with Christopher.


Al-Britannia: A Journey Through Muslim Britain by James Fergusson (UK, Bantam Press) 

Al-BritanniaJames Fergusson

An exploration of the nuances of Muslim identity and longing in Britain today.

Read an extract from Al-Britannia and check out our interview with James.


Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann (UK, Oneworld)

Black TudorsMiranda Kaufmann

In Miranda Kaufmann's debut book, she uncovers the long-forgotten records – and remarkable stories – of Africans who lived in Tudor England.

Read an extract from Black Tudors and check out our interview with Miranda.



I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad by Souad Mekhennet (Germany, Virago)

I was told to come aloneSouad Mekhennet

In this book, journalist Souad Mekhennet documents her often perilous assignments in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Read an extract from I Was Told To Come Alone. 



 Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds by Dame Anne Salmond (New Zealand, Auckland University Press)

Tears of RangiAnne Salmond

In her most ambitious book to date, Anne Salmond looks at New Zealand as a site of cosmo-diversity, a place where multiple worlds collide, beginning with a fine-grained inquiry into the early encounters between Maori and Europeans from 1769 onwards.

Read an extract from Tears of Rangi and check out our interview with Anne.