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“To the Lake” by Kapka Kassabova

kapka kassabova to the lake review

Kapka Kassabova – To the Lake: A Balkan Journey of Conflict and Peace (Graywolf Press 2020). Paperback, pp 416.

E-book assessment by Hannah Denno.

Kapka Kassabova’s newest ebook To The Lake: A Balkan Journey of Conflict and Peace is difficult to pigeonhole: half travelogue, half household memoir, half historical past of the southern Balkans, half psychogeographical exploration of the affect of place on conduct and feelings. The creator anticipates this by explaining she is writing within the custom of “historia,” the Greek phrase initially describing a multidisciplinary examination of a topic. It is just in latest centuries, she explains, that “historical past” has come to imply a linear narrative of the previous, while a meandering exploration of a area and the myriad tales of its inhabitants might higher symbolize the way in which we expertise the world.

The travels in query start with Kassabova’s return to the place the place her grandmother, Anastassia, grew up, the city of Ohrid, on the shores of the lake of the identical title in southwest Macedonia. Kassabova remembers her grandmother as a dominating, bigger than life determine however as a lady who harbored inside her a deep pit of loss and longing that might by no means be stuffed. The creator sees this melancholic starvation as having been handed down by means of the generations, first to her mom then to herself, and hopes to higher perceive and perhaps even remodel this inheritance by revisiting the spot the place all of it started.

Lake Ohrid is transected by the borders of three nations, North Macedonia, Albania and Greece. Instantly, this leads Kassabova again to the territory of her earlier ebook, ‘Border’, the arbitrariness and fluidity of strains on the map, the historic grievances attributable to these altering divisions, the life of individuals in these edgelands and the issues of overlapping identities. As she travels in all three international locations, although, she writes of a rising sense that the peoples of the lakes (Ohrid and its sister lake, Prespa) are one folks.

This battle between oneness and division is without doubt one of the key themes of Kassabova’s ebook and he or she writes fantastically on it. The story of the Balkans appears to her a microcosm of the wrestle all through historical past of those two nice world opposing forces. The area has given its title to the time period “balkanization,” which means a breaking apart into smaller elements, and has grow to be synonymous with the thought of ethnic nationalism and “historic hatreds.” But, there may be a lot variety within the Balkans, and completely different teams, together with Christians and Muslims, have lived aspect by aspect right here for lots of of years. In Ohrid, Kassabova hears the muezzin’s name to prayer and the ringing of church bells comply with one after the opposite. And at Saint Naum Monastery, the place she lets the magnificence of the lake metaphorically wash over her, the tomb of Naum is an equally common pilgrimage vacation spot for members of each faiths.

In the end, Kassabova finds therapeutic, and the reply to the contradictions she is fascinated by, within the enduring stillness of the traditional lake. However the journey to that endpoint may be heavy studying at occasions. By conversations with the folks she meets, she finds that her inheritance of loss is shared by many and understands it as a fallout of the political upheavals and conflicts which have riven the Balkans within the final century. Ladies have misplaced their husbands to battle. Youngsters have misplaced their mother and father as they’ve migrated and borders have closed firmly shut behind them. Historical past has been erased and other people have misplaced the best to talk their very own language as new nation-states have sought to homogenize. This being so, loss now appears inevitable. “We act out of an inherited perception that we don’t have the best to be at peace,” writes Kassabova.

Kassabova encounters some bleak tales and damaged folks. Tanas, a tour information who offers her a ship experience on Lake Ohrid, tells her of rising up in a piece camp in Communist Albania the place folks had been so hungry that they hid the our bodies of their lifeless youngsters so they may proceed to say their rations. And Nick, Kassabova’s travelling companion for a portion of her journey, relates the story of his grandfather who needed to flee Bulgaria for Australia within the Nineteen Forties, abandoning a spouse and two younger youngsters. Nick’s grandfather travelled to Yugoslavia in 1987 to lastly meet his son who had been given permission to cross the border from Bulgaria. However when the son reached the checkpoint, he was stalled for days, being requested to supply increasingly papers. Solely when the daddy had given up hope and boarded a aircraft again to Australia was the son allowed entry, in order that they missed one another by a matter of hours.

The creator shepherds us by means of this struggling with the poetry of her prose. (On the facility of the lake to beat divisions: “The land is riven with the anguish and contradictions of linear roads, however the lake accommodates multitudes.” On folks utilizing historic stones from the Roman By way of Egnatia to construct barns: “That is how historical past appears on the bottom—not a parade of nice occasions however a quiet chain of recycling.”) Along with her knack of assembly fascinating folks, comparable to Clemé, the previous revengeful paramilitary and wheeler-dealing girls’ man who has since grow to be the reverent caretaker of the Black Madonna Monastery following a stroke-induced coma when the Black Madonna herself appeared to him in a imaginative and prescient. And along with her eye for little nuggets of hope, such because the headstone she spots in a Greek cemetery that has been written in each Greek and Cyrillic, and has not been defaced regardless of the Republic’s 70 12 months lengthy ban on Cyrillic script.

The best sources of hope for Kassabova are the lakes themselves, older and greater than human issues. “All is one,” they inform her. “Our tragedy is fragmentation.” Kassabova’s “historia” makes a convincing case for this.

Kapka Kassabova – To the Lake: A Balkan Journey of Conflict and Peace (Graywolf Press 2020). Paperback, pp 416.

E-book assessment by Hannah Denno.

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