I happened to read Kapka Kassabova’s Border: a journey to the edge of Europe a short while after reading Anna Funder’s Stasiland. The two books, both published by Granta, share a similar theme: visiting a part of Europe formerly divided by a heavily policed border constructed to prevent occupants of the former Soviet Union from escaping to the West. Stasiland is about East Germany and the Berlin Wall; Border is about the southern Balkans borderlands between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey.
Kassabova was born and raised in Bulgaria before her family managed to emigrate to New Zealand. In this book, she makes her first return visit to her former homeland, and the two countries on the other side of the once impregnable border. It’s a fascinating read. Kassbova encounters and spends time with people with different backgrounds, from different cultures, who come across as having far more in common than we might expect. She meets former refugees and smugglers, border guards and local business-people, and the occasional mystic.
Despite the area’s often tragic history, I found the empathy between cultures either side of the, nowadays, considerably more porous border a great encouragement. Neighbours ought to be able to get on.