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To the Lake

A Balkan Journey of War and Peace

Graywolf Press

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ISBN10: 1644450267
ISBN13: 9781644450260


416 Pages



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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.


Praise for To the Lake

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.”The Financial Times (UK)

“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)

“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