Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa. Two ancient lakes joined by underground rivers. Two lakes that seem to hold both the turbulent memories of the region’s past and the secret of its enduring allure. Two lakes that have played a central role in Kapka Kassabova’s maternal family. Setting out to resolve her own ancestral legacy, Kassabova locates a deeper inquiry into how geography and politics imprint themselves upon families and nations, one that confronts her with universal questions about human suffering and the capacity for change.
Borders and their intrinsic, deforming violence remain Kassabova’s subject. But in this book she goes further, tracing the intrusion of those cracks deeper into the souls and psyches of successive generations, herself included ... Kassabova has never been interested in derring‑do; the perils she encounters are of the psychic variety, and they are genuine ... To the Lake’s objective is not healing so much as reconciliation, a quest for spiritual wholeness ... The narrative performs another kind of reconciliation, too. A characteristic of modern travel writing is a patchwork, broken-mirror approach to form: short, lapidary encounters; the micro-patterning of images and tales and meditations – a tendency attributable to modernism as much as to the impressionistic, stop-start nature of any journey. It was partly the compound facets of Border that accounted for its miraculous glimmer. To the Lake is more languid and more patient, as fluid and inexorable as the underground watercourses that connect the two lakes. The book’s achievement, likewise, is to reconcile, thrillingly, what those twin bodies of water represent to Kassabova: the unconscious and the conscious; the darkness of history and the radiance of life and love.
With a poet’s sensitivity, Kassabova meets with and tells the stories of the vividly varied cast of people who inhabit this fraught corner between North Macedonia, Albania and Greece, mining their conversations to explore the experience of 'identity as tyranny' ... The compelling blend of memoir, history and travelogue into which these ideas are turned is a poignant, powerful argument to overcome our obsession with difference. The book’s architecture seamlessly weaves its multiple perspectives, gathered from distant family members, monks, fishermen, widows, outsiders and survivors ... Together, they form a haunting and elegant whole with a vehement message at its core: 'Lake and mountain were one. The world, when left alone, was one.'
The author is a consummate adventurer and indiscriminate observer, as drawn to abandoned monasteries as to fast-food chicken joints. Talking to strangers is her métier; in kiosks, at curbsides, and in cafés, she harvests myriad little sagas, which cast their own light (or shadow) over a land it seems no one can quite definitively call their own ... The sweeping statements and capital-Q questions are par for the course, but where Kassabova’s book shines is in the casual precision of the author’s own observations. Her style is wily and imaginative, with sentences rapidly gliding into the unexpected ... Her witnesses are delightfully unreliable ... You learn to shrug and just be grateful you’re not the one who has to figure out how to get home for the evening. One starts to weary, however, when our adventurer’s gaze turns inward. If readers of Border felt the author to be as elusive as her subject matter, perhaps there was some relief in the quicksilver reportage; in To the Lake, introspection comes less artfully ('To be female is to grieve').