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The celebrated author of Border explores a mysterious, ancient, and little-understood corner of Europe
Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa. Two ancient lakes joined by underground rivers. Two lakes that seem to hold both the turbulent memories of the region’s past and the secret of its enduring allure. Two lakes that have played a central role in Kapka Kassabova’s maternal family.
As she journeys to her grandmother’s place of origin, Kassabova encounters a historic crossroads. The lakes are set within the mountainous borderlands of North Macedonia, Albania, and Greece, and crowned by the old Via Egnatia, which once connected Rome to Constantinople. A former trading and spiritual nexus of the southern Balkans, this lake region remains one of Eurasia’s most diverse corners. Meanwhile, with their remote rock churches, changeable currents, and large population of migratory birds, the lakes live in their own time.
By exploring on water and land the stories of poets, fishermen, and caretakers, misfits, rulers, and inheritors of war and exile, Kassabova uncovers the human destinies shaped by the lakes. Setting out to resolve her own ancestral legacy, Kassabova locates a deeper inquiry into how geography and politics imprint themselves upon families and nations, one that confronts her with universal questions about human suffering and the capacity for change.
“Borders and their intrinsic, deforming violence remain Kassabova’s subject. But in this book she goes further, tracing the intrusion of those cracks deeper into the souls and psyche of successive generations, herself included. . . . The book’s achievement . . . 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.”—The Guardian (UK)
“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, despite generations of strife suggesting otherwise.”—Financial Times (UK)
“From the deep labyrinths of the Balkan past, 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
“[Kassabova] refutes the lazy journalistic cliché of “ancient hatreds”. . . . [She] purports to carry you To the Lake, but penetrates much, much deeper into the seismic psyche of the Balkans.”—The Times (UK)
“Far from being heavy or depressing, [Kassabova’s] book is a delight, exquisitely written and brimming with compassion.”—The Sunday Times (UK)
“Enlightening, surprising and elegiac . . . very much in 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. 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.”—Scotland on Sunday (UK)
“Her narrative glides through different locations, time periods and perspectives so subtly that you don’t quite realize the full scope of its ambition until it’s over. In a lesser writer, this could come across as twee and irritating. It’s a testament to how good Kassabova is that it never does. You could open this book at any page and immediately get sucked into the beauty of her writing.”—openDemocracy (UK)
“What Kassabova attempts to bring out throughout this book: the quiet lives that get hidden by history. . . . She is too good a writer not to allow us many individual pleasures along the way.” —The Spectator (UK)