Border by Kapka Kassabova takes £25,000 prize

News - Prizes Wednesday, 31 October 2018

British Academy’s Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding 2018 won by study of Balkan border region


Kapka Kassabova last night was named the winner of the British Academy’s 6th Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding 2018, for her book Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe (Granta Books).

The book is an exploration of the border zone between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece – 'a close study of how borders shape people’s lives. Kassabova returns to the land of her childhood, intricately weaving the individual stories of the people she meets there into the wider history of the region.'

Kassabova, was born in Bulgaria in 1973. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, she emigrated with her family to New Zealand in 1992, where she studied French and Russian Literature at university. In 2005 she moved to Edinburgh and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. She is a writer of poetry, fiction and narrative non-fiction.

The £25,000 prize was presented by chair of the jury and foreign secretary of the British Academy, Professor Ash Amin CBE FBA, at a ceremony at the British Academy in central London.

He said: "Kapka Kassabova has written an extraordinary book, an important contribution to the urgent debate about global cultural understanding. Border has an original, compelling narrative which explores the notion of the border, not just as a frontier but as a psychological and cultural dynamic.

"The book is a description of a meeting place between past and present, peoples, culture and nature, written in a mesmerising style, peopled with vivid characters and full of sharply drawn encounters. Border invests the theme of cultural understanding with a magical quality, mixing observation, biography and lyricism."

Speaking on behalf of the British Academy, chief executive Alun Evans said: "The British Academy proudly champions the humanities and social sciences, and these subjects’ power to illustrate and illuminate. Without well-researched, deeply knowledgeable books like this we cannot begin to get to grips with the important cultural challenges we all face in today’s world. We are delighted to award this year’s Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize to Kapka Kassabova."

The other five books on the shortlist were: The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason by Christopher de Bellaigue, (The Bodley Head); Al-Britannia: A Journey Through Muslim Britain by James Fergusson, (Bantam Press); Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann, (Oneworld); I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad by Souad Mekhennet, (Virago) and Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds by Dame Anne Salmond (Auckland University Press).

The British Academy’s international prize was established in 2013, 'to reward and celebrate the best works of non-fiction that demonstrate rigour and originality, have contributed to global cultural understanding and illuminate the interconnections and divisions that shape cultural identity worldwide.'

The last three winners were Timothy Garton Ash for Free Speech (2017), Professor Carole Hillenbrand for Islam: A New Historical Introduction (2016), and Dr Neil MacGregor for A History of the World in 100 Objects and Germany: Memories of a Nation (2015).

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