Kapka Kassabova lives in Scotland, but her background is Bulgarian. She grew up in a Bulgarian family in the nation’s capital, Sofia.
Kassabova writes in a variety of genres, including poetry, fiction, travel, and autobiography. I discovered her writing by happening across a copy of the paperback edition of Border whilst browsing in our local branch of Topping & Co.
Border (Granta, 2017), explores the part of southeastern Europe that approximately corresponds to the region of Thrace. It’s where Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece border each other.
Kassabova portrays the character of region, exploring in particular the influence of the border. She registers the ways in which the nature of the border has, and hasn’t, changed over time (‘It was deadly, and it remains prickly with dread’).
The Bulgarian border ‘has half a century of Cold War hardness’: it ‘marked the cut-off line between the Warsaw Pact countries of the Soviet bloc and…NATO’. Now, notes Kassabova, the Greek-Bulgarian border is ‘softened’ by shared membership of EU. The Turkish border has lost its ‘old hardness but acquired a new one: its symptom is the new wire walls erected to stem the human flow from the Middle East’.
As Kassabova travels around the region, Border becomes a fount of stories. She uncovers stories of all kinds: anecdotal; biographical; historical (ancient and modern); and mythical. Some of them are comical or heart-warming: but others –unsurprisingly, given the turbulent history of the Balkans — are tragic or blood-stained.
To me, what Kassabova conveys above all is the weirdness of the border zone. She meets odd people and recounts strange happenings.
I knew very little about this region before I read Border. The book is articulately and expressively written and, once I’d taken its temperature, I found it compelling.
I’m now reading Street without a name (Portobello, 2008), Kassabova’s memoir of her childhood in, and subsequent visits to, Bulgaria,