Like a carp along the bottom of the lake, Kassabova stirs through the murky depths of the Balkan past. As she journeys through her grandmother's place of origin, the people and places she encounters tell the stories of a region long defined by conflict. Part biography, part history, part geography, To the Lake is a pellucid reflection of the weight and trauma of national division, and an urgent call to overcome it. Prepare for a deep dive!— K.L.
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.
“’Spirit’ is an apt word for Kassabova. The author is a consummate adventurer and indiscriminate observer. . . . Talking to strangers is her me´tier; in kiosks, at curbsides, and in cafés, she harvests myriad little sagas, which cast their own light (or shadow) over a land it seems no one can quite definitively call their own. . . . Kassabova’s book shines . . . in the casual precision of the author’s own observations. Her style is wily and imaginative, with sentences rapidly gliding into the unexpected.”—Bookforum
“Kassabova’s journey is . . . expansive. This, coupled with the raw candor of its many conversations, gives the book an undeniable pulse. Through its sincerity and profundity, To the Lake proves Kapka Kassabova’s to be one of Eurasia’s definitive literary voices.”—World Literature Today
“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)
“In lyrical, radiant prose, [Kapka Kassabova] recounts her journey to the lakes in a quest to understand the historical forces that shaped her family and her sense of self. . . . A haunting, captivating memoir of homecoming.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“This heartfelt exploration of the intersections between geography, history, and identity mesmerizes.”—Publishers Weekly
“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