Kapka Kassabova: My mission as a writer is healing 

The Bulgarian-Greek border area (source: Nedret Benzet)

About borders and bridges in Southeast Europe, about the natural and human treasures waiting to be discovered: an interview with Kapka Kassabova, author of the books Border, To The Lake

Smaranda Schiopu & Vladimir Mitev

We spoke with the writer Kapka Kassabova in early March 2022, on the occasion of the Romanian translation of her book, Border. By then the war in neighbouring Ukraine had already been raging for two weeks. We talked about borders, the Balkans, war, but also about the things that unite us in this corner of the world. She reminded me, and she reminds us all, that continuing to be witnesses and offer solidarity is our collective responsibility.

Kapka Kassabova is a multifaceted writer, moving from poetry to fiction and non-fiction, yet she is probably best known for her spellbinding blend of personal and local history travel writing. Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria, she emigrated with her family to New Zealand in the late 1980s and after graduating from university, she started on her own travels and settled in the Scottish Highlands. 

Choosing an occupation previously reserved for men – the travel writer – Kapka Kassabova can sit next to other authors who have made their way to Southeast Europe, such as Mary Edith Durham or Rebecca West. What makes her stand apart is her deeper connection with the mysteries of the Balkans which translate into a more nuanced understanding of the contradictions in this area. 

In 2017, she published the book Border – A Journey To The Edge of Europe, awarded all over Europe. In it, Kassabova embarks on a journey along the border between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, documenting the present and the past of the towns and villages at this southeastern end of the former Iron Curtain. Before the collapse of the USSR, many lost their lives trying to reach the dreamy West. Today, part of that border is the border between the European Union and Turkey, another line separating freedom of movement beneficiaries and refugees seeking a better world.

On each side of the current borders, the writer encounters shepherds, former border guards, traders, farmers, refugees or even human traffickers. They talk about lost lives, but also about the symbolic violence of physical boundaries and their effects across generations.

In her most recent book, To The Lake, Kapka Kassabova explores her maternal grandmother’s roots, around lakes Ohrid and Prespa, a geographically contested area, subject of international quarrels among Greece, North Macedonia and Albania. 

This interview was published on 8 April 2022 at the Romanian cultural magazine Scena9.

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