A Journey to the Edge of Europe

Kapka Kassabova

Published: 1 February 2018
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 400 pages
ISBN: 9781783783205

Other Editions

Trade Paperback

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Published: 2 February 2017
Trade Paperback, Royal PB
153x234mm, 400 pages
ISBN: 9781783782147

Ebook Available


When Kapka Kassabova was a child, the borderzone between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece was rumoured to be an easier crossing point into the West than the Berlin Wall so it swarmed with soldiers, spies and fugitives. On holidays close to the border on the Black Sea coast, she remembers playing on the beach, only miles from where an electrified fence bristled, its barbs pointing inwards toward the enemy: the holiday-makers, the potential escapees.

Today, this densely forested landscape is no longer heavily militarised, but it is scarred by its past. In Border, Kapka Kassabova sets out on a journey to meet the people of this triple border - Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks, and the latest wave of refugees fleeing conflict further afield. She discovers a region that has been shaped by the successive forces of history: by its own past migration crises, by communism, by two World wars, by the Ottoman Empire, and - older still - by the ancient legacy of myths and legends. As Kapka Kassabova explores this enigmatic region in the company of border guards and treasure hunters, entrepreneurs and botanists, psychic healers and ritual fire-walkers, refugees and smugglers, she traces the physical and psychological borders that criss-cross its villages and mountains, and goes in search of the stories that will unlock its secrets.

Border is a sharply observed portrait of a little-known corner of Europe, and a fascinating meditation on the borderlines that exist between countries, between cultures, between people, and within each of us.

About the author

Image of Kapka Kassabova

KAPKA KASSABOVA was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. She is the author of several poetry collections, numerous travel essays, the novel Villa Pacifica (2011), and the acclaimed memoirs Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria (2008) and Twelve Minutes of Love: A Tango Story (2011). She has written for the Sunday Times, the Guardian, Vogue, and 1843 magazine. More about the author


‘'Kassabova writes with such energy and style that you feel she could visit the dullest place on earth and make it burst into life. But she has found somewhere extraordinary, full of dazzling human stories played out against a ceaseless round of brutal wars and shifting empires. A brilliant and hugely satisfying book'’ Philip Marsden



‘[A] brilliantly diverse and skilful writer... [Kassabova's] narrative nonfiction is almost renowned... Fascinating’ Exciting Books Coming in 2017

‘[A] remarkable personal exploration of the borderland between Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. The Bulgarian-born poet converses with strangers - guards, treasure-hunters, botanists, refugees, smugglers - to release unusual, vivid, poignant human stories. She comes to it with a poet's sensibility and a journalist's curiosity. A wonderful, luminous combination’

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

‘[A] valuable book [that] brings to life not just a neglected region but also one of the themes of our time: borders, open and closed... A book of our time’ Simon Kuper

‘[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’ Teddy Jamieson

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

‘[Kassabova] seques seamlessly between myth and history, memoir and reportage. Border is a great [travel book]. But it's more than that: it's a big-hearted book for what seems an increasingly mean-spirited age. It spells out the human consequences of nationalism and totalitarianism; of divisions and fences and walls designed to keep "them" from "us"’ Michael Kerr

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

Border is not just a topical book but an urgent one, for is 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 magical book... Kassabova captures the lingering ethnic tapestry of the region, its pagan-like religions and fire-walking cults, in poetic prose of mystical elegance’

‘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 lived 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

‘An accomplished poet and polyglot, [Kassabova] writes exquisite prose, dripping with scorn for the politicians whose bone-headed rules and careless greed despoil the land and ruin the lives of those who still live there’ Edward Lucas

‘An exceptional travel book that's every bit as good as the writing of Patrick Leigh-Fermor’

‘An extraordinary book... There are moments of dynamism and hope in these pages... It's to be hoped that Kassabova, with her glorious prose and open heart, always takes care but never abandons the quest [of storytelling]’

‘Haunting... a splendid book’ William Armstrong

‘In Kassabova's study these tragic borderlands are brought to life with poetic grace, and her interaction with their inhabitants confers a haunting power on her journey’ Colin Thubron

‘Kapka Kassabova is a modern Scheherazade - a dazzling writer who tells stories as if her life depended on it... 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... Spell binding’ Neal Ascheron

‘Kapka Kassabova's poignant, erudite and witty third book, border, 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 is a "melancholy miracle", writes Ms Kassabova, that "odd ragged bits of this one-rich human tapestry" survive. They could have no better chronicler’

‘Kassabova writes beautifully about the millions of refugees exchanged between Greece and Turkey’ Sameer Rahim

‘Kassabova's Border is quite possible the book of the year. Both timely and timeless, this travelogue around the outer reaches of Europe has Cold War history echoing into our modern times, where desperate refugees attempt to cross those all-too important lines on a map. It is beautifully poetic, heart-breaking, and humane. The book will transform you’

‘Like a sharp-eyed magpie, [Kassabova] travels across the borders in this place with three alphabets, picking up intriguing titbits of history and folklore... With a lightness of touch, [...] the tragedies, ironies and curiosities of this often-overlooked corner of Europe, with hotchpotch of peoples, are captured by Kassabova's vivid phrasings’ Robbie Millen

‘Like the places it describes, this book holds you in a kind of mysterious electrical charge. It hums with the mystery, superstition, and terrible beauty of a place crushed between man-made borders but also defiantly announcing its sacred otherness. I can't stop thinking about it’ Frances Stonor Saunders

‘Passionately lived... [Kassabova's] descriptions of place are lyrical and gorgeous... but it's her encounters with people which bring the book to life... She lets the echoes in the stories she hears tell a wider story’ James Robinson

‘She has achieved something remarkable: a book about borders which makes the reader feel sumptuously free. An effect achieved by the way she moves between literary borders so gracefully: travelogue and existential drama; political history and poetry’ Peter Pomerentsev

‘She picks up intriguing bits about folklore, history and modern living [and] has a light touch... Vividly written’

‘The literature of place is crying out for a talent as magical, brilliant and original as Kapka Kassabova's. She writes with taut intelligence and poetic intensity, a shrewd and grown-up worldliness and a rapt sense of all that isn't in the world, a combination that I've been looking for this entire century. When Border arrived in my life, I felt as if I'd been struck by lightning’ Pico Iyer

‘This exceptional book about a journey through Bulgaria's dark, often magical borderland is every bit as good as the travel writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor’

‘This is a dazzling work of art and reportage, an iridescent book, glittering with stories of horror, comedy and actual magic. Kassabova is a brilliant traveller, an astonishing interviewer and writer with a near clairvoyant understanding of the real lives of men and women. In Border, she follows some fierce, sorcerous current which carries us all towards frontiers; there is an urgent and engrossing story here’ Horatio Clare

‘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, giving the context for their lives in a way that the dozens of current books on the travels and travails of modern refugees seldom do... an important reminder that refugees are not a separate species, moving inexorably away and towards, but part of a vast, complicated pattern of history... Border makes for timely reading’ Caroline Moorehead

‘This smokily intense and quaveringly 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, and that is surely the travel writer's essential kit... [Border] is aromatic, lyrical, disturbing - and very, very fine’ James McConachie

‘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

‘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 Johnstone

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