Kapka Kassabova has written a marvellous book about a magical part of the world ... Kassabova’s story starts on the other side of that border, over the hill in Bulgaria, and it is full of restlessness. It shows more starkly than anything else I have read what the border did to the people who lived along it, and how its legacy endures ... Eco-tourism beckons, and Kassabova, a poet, writes lyrically and effectively about the astonishing natural beauty of much of the area. But she spends enough time talking to local people and hearing their stories to give us a real sense of the psychic dramas they carry with them as well ... Border offers the reader a large helping of strange inexplicable occurrences and compelling characters, but its author is engaged in something more personal and more engaging than most of her predecessors.
Her book is a deconstruction of the looming, nonspecific anxiety that comes from continually having to justify your right to exist on one or another side of a line ... Kassabova writes with particular curiosity about the men and women who are or have been complicit in the violence that takes place at borders ... Kassabova’s writing isn’t partisan or prescriptive, but it does raise political questions and gives them a deep emotional resonance. How can anyone be 'from' anywhere in a place where villages have frequently swapped names and populations? What’s it like to be permanently on a side you haven’t chosen? ... Running through her narrative is a vivid sense of the wildness of the place. Kassabova taps into atmospheric tensions; she’s so attuned to the hum of leaves and moss and rocks that if she claimed to have been a witch in a past life, you’d probably believe her. She ends her book with a plea to preserve these forests. Border does occasionally verge on the florid, but it’s also sharp and stuffed with information—it’s hard to imagine a more original and compelling introduction to a virtually unknown region.
With the deft touch of a historian, she connects the voices of those who have struggled to cross borders across the centuries ... Kassabova is a poet, and her writing is beautiful — moving and witty by turns. Her interest in the spirituality of Strandja, the mountainous border region, however, outstrips mine, and she lost me in lengthy passages describing local supernatural phenomena ... She is more convincing when attributing her emotions to the personal sense of displacement that allows her to so keenly empathise with the people torn apart by war, bureaucracy and the stifling borders of 'the edge of Europe.' In a world ever more divided, ever more threatened by Mexican walls, restrictive new passports and fear of the unknown, we need books like this.
Borders frighten; frontiers entice. Despite its title, Kapka Kassabova’s marvelous new travelogue is a book about both ... As good as Kassabova is at telling the hard stories of migrants, refugees, and escapees, she is even better when she lets herself linger in a place and absorb its rhythms and idiosyncrasies. Fortunately for us, she does this a lot, and the result is that Border is a pure delight ... Border is that rarest of things: a travel book with a conscience that is also a compendium of wonders. It as thoughtful as Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, as open to the world as Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Between the Woods and the Water, as beautiful in its architecture as Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia ... In Border, Kassabova herself has achieved something akin to the revelation sought by these forgotten monks and fire-walkers: she has let her ego take a backseat to her senses, if not quite dissolve entirely. Her book is the product of a roving eye and an acute ear. It is a masterpiece of what I would call slow geography.
Kassabova is a poet and therefore Border is a touching meditation on the people living near and affected by the border ... Border is a very well researched book. Kassabova tries her best to give voice to all sides of the story – those who live by the border, those who cross it, and those who protect it ... Kassabova is local enough to dig out the details, and at the same time detached enough to see things without judging them. She observes, listens, and narrates without distorting the story with her opinion. She’s a messenger. A very fair one. In the current state of the world’s refugee crisis, Border is a reminder that those who cross the borders are not just numbers. They are people, and bearers of stories that deserve to be heard.
A survivor of the latter political crisis, writer Kapka Kassabova returns to her native Bulgaria ...Kassabova carefully circles her former home to better understand the land through those who never left and the immigrants who struggle to survive during these unprecedented times ... Rich with a profound sense of the region’s political and cultural history, this travelogue moves at an often meandering pace, its narrative broken up by condensed musings on personal conflict, historical ephemera or folklore ... This indirect journey answers no specific questions, but it presents an array of evidence through which one may consider why this was such a crucible for horror and displacement ... Kassabova zeros in on the indiscriminate risk embedded in this purgatory that leaves one with very little to lose.
Kapka Kassabova’s poignant, erudite and witty third book brings hidden history vividly to light ... At a time when memories of the Soviet empire’s vast prison camp are fading, the story Ms Kassabova has to tell is important. She grew up in communist Bulgaria and remembers that system’s arbitrary cruelty, which finds echoes today in the mistreatment of refugees and migrants ... A particular treat is her ear for lurid local myths. Extraterrestrial beacons, mysterious balls of fire, lost pyramids and a secret site guarded by specially bred Uzbek vipers all get a look in ... She treads lightly but distinctly through the stories she tells, displaying an enviable mixture of rapport with her subjects and detachment from their peculiarities ... Yet the author’s astringent approach to myths and falsehoods could be more evenly applied...But these flaws pale against the strength of the book: its treatment of history’s blessings and curses.
Kassabova’s sense of adventure and spontaneity, combined with a lack of artifice (she spends ample time sitting on balconies confessing that she doesn’t want to do a thing) are winning qualities in a narrator. But the flip side of this lack of artifice is a lack of structure. Although the book is divided into some sixty micro-chapters, it lacks a deeper sense of organization and pacing. Too often, Kassabova piles up anecdotes without signaling their significance; at the same time, her historical explanations are full of dry humor but cluttered and confusing ... The book’s most affecting scenes involve Middle Eastern refugees. Their stories seem to release Kassabova to express a capacious sense of loss ... Kassabova’s gifts as a poet shine when she describes the mystical, powerful landscape, the book’s true protagonist.
Telling her story, she includes bits of the layered history of the region, not so systematically that an outsider can piece it all into a coherent narrative but nonetheless studded with flashes of insight. A dreamlike account that subtly draws readers into the author’s ambivalent experience of a homeland that has changed almost beyond recognition.
Throughout, Kassabova presents the border as a metaphor for the threshold of human callousness: once the line has been crossed into cruelty, there is no returning to the country of innocence. Wild animals abound, myths mingle with reality, and Kassabova proves to be a penetrating and contemplative guide through rough terrain.