Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe

The tug of the border was powerful among the river dragonflies, like a gravitational force. Whichever way you turned, something was behind you and nothing ahead of you. Perhaps that’s what history is.

from Border



The 2018 British Academy Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, winner

The 2018 Highland Book Prize, winner
The Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing, shortlisted
The Duff Cooper Prize for Non-Fiction, shortlisted
The 2018 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, shortlisted
The 2017 Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year, winner
The 2017 Edward Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year, winner
The 2017 Baillie-Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, shortlisted
The National Circle of Critics Awards (US), shortlisted
The 2017 Gordon Burn Prize, shortlisted

‘Border is not just a topical book but an urgent one, for it spells out the human consequences of nationalism and totalitarianism; of a narrow focus on identity and ethnicity; of divisions and fences and walls designed to keep “them” from “us”. A big-hearted book for what feels increasingly a mean-spirited age.’ Michael Kerr, The Telegraph

‘Border is about the interpretive power of metaphor, how the densely forested landscape of memory and storytelling roots us, even in the places from which we have been uprooted… Border reminds us that we may all find ourselves facing the point ‘between opportunity and catastrophe’, as we feel the world shift beneath our feet.’ Sarah Churchwell, Baillie-Gifford judge

‘This is an exceptional book, a tale of travelling and listening closely, and it brings something altogether new to the mounting literature on the story of modern migration… The strength of Kassabova’s book lies in the skill with which she interweaves the narrative of [today’s refugees] into that of the inhabitants of the borderlands.’ Caroline Moorhead, New Statesman

‘[This] beautiful, tragic and universal new book may just be the most important you read in this year of Brexit.’ Alan Bett, The Skinny

‘This smokily intense and quiveringly powerful travel book is about the wild, forested and tragic borderland between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. Kassabova […] has the travel-writer’s core skill of acute sensitivity to her physical environment, together with a poet’s turn of phrase and a poet’s emotional rawness… Kassabova is, above all, sensationally good at meeting extraordinary people… [Border] is aromatic, lyrical, disturbing – and very, very fine.’ James McConnachie, Sunday Times

‘A marvellous book about a magical part of the world… It shows more starkly than anything else I have read what the border did to the people who live along it, and how its legacy endures… Kassabova, a poet, writes lyrically and effectively about the astonishing natural beauty of much of the area… as [she] arcs across countries and centuries in an effort to free herself from the enchantment of this strangest of regions. In the end she leaves, but the spell remains.’ Mark Mazower, The Guardian

‘[Kassabova] has an old-fashioned gift for storytelling… Border brilliantly reveals the effects of a millennium of kaleidoscopic shifting. Thoughtful and impressive.’ Sarah Wheeler, Observer

‘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… 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.’ Alev Scott, Financial Times

‘Kapka Kassabova’s poignant, erudite and witty third book brings hidden history vividly to light… She treads lightly but distinctly through the stories she tells, displaying an enviable mixture of rapport with her subjects and detachment from their peculiarities… It’s a ‘melancholy miracle’, writes Ms Kassabova, that ‘odd ragged bits of this once-rich human tapestry’ survive. They could have no better chronicler.’ The Economist

‘Kapka Kassabova is a modern Scheherazade – a dazzling writer who tells stories as if her life depended on it. She seizes stories and the men and women who give her the stories with the same compulsion that made Robert Burns collect songs or J.F.Campbell of Kildalton record both Gaelic legends and their reciters. But as this wonderful book goes on, a kind of deep background music begins to be heard: themes and images which recur and weave all the voices into a pattern.’ Neal Ascherson, Scottish Review of Books

‘[Kassabova’s] hunger and fascination with this little known region has resulted in Border, one of those books that elevates travel writing to art… Mystery, of course, is at the heart of her book. The mystery of marginal points and marginal people.’ The Herald

‘[A] timely and moving book… Her writing powerfully weaves history, folklore, reportage and personal reflections… Border is illuminating, passionate and sometimes funny. It brilliantly ventriloquises the voice of this mysterious, often plundered part of Europe, revealing the ironies of nationalism and the profound way in which ethnicity and displacement can affect the human psyche.’ Helena Drysdale, Country Life

‘Written with compassion and intelligence, the prose here is as clear and fresh as a mountain stream. This is a timely and important book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.’ Doug Johnsone, Big Issue

‘Riveting, beautifully written… Her wry wit leavens the narrative and keeps it from collapsing under the weight of cumulative tragedy. . . . This is travel writing with lexical precision (“transhumance”, “karst”) and a sense of adventure, but with a distinctively female slant. With the best of travel writers, Kapka Kassabova is an explorer, viewing everything with the eyes of discovery, even as she uncovers strata of history and legend. She makes us long to peer closely at the map, and see these wondrous places for ourselves.’ A.E.Stallings, The TLS

‘Kassabova’s sense of adventure and spontaneity, combined with a lack of artifice . . . are winning qualities in a narrator. . . . Kassabova’s gifts as a poet shine when she describes the mystical, powerful landscape, the book’s true protagonist.’ Newsday

‘This may very well be the best book I’ve read this decade.’ Alex Balk, The Awl

‘Kassabova’s book is closer to a superbly executed work of anthropology. What sets it apart is the brilliance of her prose.’ Current History

‘As Kassabova travels through the hinterlands of Bulgaria, along the border where that country meets Turkey and Greece, she discovers that borders shape the lives of both those who attempt to cross them and those who live nearby. . . . Border offers a dark look at a world of smugglers and spies, where the past maintains its hold even as people struggle to reach a brighter future.’ Booklist

‘Border is that rarest of things: a travel book with a conscience that is also a compendium of wonders.’ LA Review of Books, by Jacob Mikanowski

New York Times review

‘It’s the story of migration, both modern and historical, of boundaries crossed and crossed out, a story as old as the soil itself.’ Literary Hub

‘Kapka Kassabova vereint den scharfen Blick einer kritischen Reporterin mit der sprachlichen Gestaltungskraft einer Dichterin und einem hohem menschlichen Engagement. Für mich gehört Die letzte Grenze zu den großen, bedeutenden Werken der modernen Reiseschriftstellerei.’ Beckmanns Entdeckungen

‘In de verste uithoek van Europa ging de Bulgaars-Schotse schrijfster Kapka Kassabova op verhalenjacht. Het resultaat: prachtige geschiedenissen en bespiegelingen over de betekenis van grenzen en van het woord ‘vaderland’.’ Tomas Vanheste

Archival photograph circa 1980, border patrol