Book Review: Border

Border:  A Trip To The Edge Of Europe, by Kapka Kassabova

It makes sense that Pico Iyer [1] would like this book.  It also makes sense that I was not quite as fond of it myself, as the author’s bumbling was unfortunate on several levels, mostly because her incompetence in dealing with others bears a pretty close resemblance to the usual record by well-meaning but not well-doing leftists the world over.  As is often the case, the perspective of this novel was one that really grated on me, even if the author was a reasonably good prose stylist and wrote about a compelling subject in the problems of borders in Thrace between Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey throughout the history of the 20th century.  Even if the subjects are well chosen and the author has a good style, the approach of the author is much less enjoyable to read, and that approach is not one I happen to enjoy, though perhaps it is one that many other readers prefer.  As for me, I did not find the author’s sympathies and my own being in agreement, and in a book where the author tries to pull on the heartstrings, this is a very serious shortcoming.

This particular volume is almost 400 pages and consists of four parts.  The first set of chapters looks at the border area of Strandja in Bulgaria, spending some time including information about Bulgaria’s treatment of those trying to escape Communism and its cozy relationship with the East German stasi.  The second part of the book looks at the Thracian corridors and how they have led to the movement of populations whether drawn by a desire to escape home (as is the case with some Kurdish illegal immigrants), or whether it is the result of state action that seeks to induce minority populations to leave.  The third part of the book looks at the Rhodope Passes and the life of those who live on the borders and try to smuggle people or goods along those borders.  The fourth and final chapter ends where the story began, with a sense of sadness about the troubles based by those along the border and with a sense of sympathy for the people involved, sympathy that I would likely have in somewhat lesser amounts.  Besides the author’s discussions in chapters there are a lot of smaller chapters that include explanations of various words in Bulgarian, Greek, or Turkish, that are more like little factoids to break up the flow of the story.

There are a few elements I find particularly problematic about this story.  For one, the author herself is obviously an incompetent naif when it comes to dealing with others and in at least some cases makes situations worse rather than better with her approach.  She also has some distinctly unacceptable ideas about illegal immigration and her sympathy for a smuggler is typical of her being a poor judge of character.  The author’s fondness for heathen superstition and pagan religion also detracts her several points in my estimation, as far too many of these chapters revel in the superstitions of locals and even show the author trying to reverse some sort of spell that she thinks afflicts her and makes her incompetent.  Unfortunately, the local magical population is unable to help her with the problem, which would require the author to get a clue and be less of a clueless liberal and find a better political and religious worldview.  Alas, that solution doesn’t appear to be in the cards, so as far as the reader is concerned her incompetence and suffering is likely to be an incurable condition.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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