To The Lake

Lake Ohrid is one of those place of the earth that make you feel as if something fateful awaits you.

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BBC Book of the Week, 17-21 February 2020

‘Kapka Kassabova has returned with another hoard of extraordinary lives, tales of survival, dark comedy and horror. Humanity glitters under her gaze in all its facets. Her prose is spectacularly good and her storytelling is a joy.’ Philip Marsden

‘Neatly adhering to rules of three, Kassabova’s well-researched and personal book contains three strands: vivid travelogue, ancestral memoir and historical analysis. Tracing the contours of the lakes by boat, foot and car, each of the lyrical chapters contains lucid stories of the shores’ inhabitants, whose tales of persecution and resistance resemble those of her own family. On these ancestral elements, Kassabova is excellent, balancing reverence and a sincere reckoning with the past…To the Lake is peopled by memorable characters.

She presents the region as containing multitudes of human experience, stories of great suffering and defiance, cruelty and comedy. If disbelief remains, it’s a result of too much reality, not fantasy.’ Matthew Janney, The New Statesman

‘Though the stories may change, one thing which is constant is the water itself. At times it has beauty that seems to vivify its surroundings…There is something preternatural here too… Kassabova is a poet by trade, which comes across in her sensuous relationship with the world around her… Her narrative glides through different locations, time periods and perspectives so subtly that you don’t quite realise the full scope of its ambition until it’s over. You could open this book at any page and immediately get sucked into the beauty of her writing.

At times Kassabova seems overwhelmed by the contradictions and absurdities, the paradoxical interplay between history, culture and identity. There are dead-ends and wormholes. Every new clue seems to only deepen the mystery.’ Alex Sakalis, Open Democracy

‘To the Lake’s objective is … reconciliation, a quest for spiritual wholeness. “Our tragedy,” she writes in the closing paragraphs, “is fragmentation.” The narrative performs another kind of reconciliation, too… 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.” William Atkins, The Guardian

‘Extraordinarily haunting.’ The Sunday Times

‘Kassabova’s calling as a poet is evident in short turns of phrase dense with meaning, and in her propensity to feel the weight of all symbols […]. Her message will resonate with all readers who have sought to connect with their ancestors […] To the Lake is an exquisitely written rallying cry to embrace the notion that the people of the Balkans — and indeed humanity as a whole — have more in common than what divides them. Reflecting on how we continue to witness conflicts of a civil and fratricidal nature today, Kassabova warns that “unless we become aware of how we carry our own legacies, we too may become unwitting agents of destruction”.’ The Financial Times

‘Kassabova makes intimate the grand abstractions of Balkan history… She captures [a] profound antiquity in an image of enchanting beauty, of the two lakes seen from above as ‘eyes in an ancient face’, suggesting the glimpses the lakes offer into a long-submerged past…. Kassabova purports to carry you To The Lake, but penetrates much, much deeper into the seismic psyche of the Balkans.’ The Times

‘The otherworldly lakes represent something complete and redemptive… Where the Balkans are so frequently made an archetype of easy fragmentation…  the lakes create “an exhilaration of wholeness”… 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 Arts Desk

‘It is impossible to study the maps in Kapka Kassabova’s blend of memoir, political and cultural history without feeling [the lakes’] lure…’ Prospect Magazine

‘Enlightening, surprising and elegiac… very much in the vein of Sebald. It ducks and dives from topic to topic, finding strange connections and hidden stories… the book is interspersed with poetry and snippets of novels from the regions, and it is a joy to read a work where you actually learn something… a very elegantly written book. A lot of this book is concerned with the psychic – the psychotic – nature of despotism…. The actual descriptions of the lakes are written with a filigree grace, unostentatious, not overly “poetic”, and with a sharp eye for telling detail… I always like books that I leave feeling bigger on the inside, and Kassabova certainly achieves that.’ Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday









Book cover photography by Anthony Georgieff