I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain
By Anita Sethi
(Bloomsbury, 29th April 2021)
“I knew in every bone in my body, in every fibre of my being that I had to speak up. I knew I could not stay silent or still. I knew I had to keep walking through the world”
A journey of reclamation through the natural landscapes of the North, brilliantly exploring identity, nature, place and belonging. Beautifully written and truly inspiring, I Belong Here heralds a powerful and refreshing new voice in nature writing.
Anita Sethi was on a journey through Northern England when she became the victim of a race-hate crime. The crime was a vicious attack on her right to exist in a place on account of her race. After the event Anita experienced panic attacks and anxiety. A crushing sense of claustrophobia made her long for wide open spaces, to breathe deeply in the great outdoors. She was intent on not letting her experience stop her travelling freely and without fear.
The Pennines – known as ‘the backbone of Britain’ runs through the north and also strongly connects north with south, east with west – it’s a place of borderlands and limestone, of rivers and ‘scars’, of fells and forces. The Pennines called to Anita with a magnetic force; although a racist had told her to leave, she felt drawn to further explore the area she regards as her home, to immerse herself deeply in place.
Anita’s journey through the natural landscapes of the North is one of reclamation, a way of saying that this is her land too and she belongs in the UK as a brown woman, as much as a white man does. Her journey transforms what began as an ugly experience of hate into one offering hope and finding beauty after brutality. Anita transforms her personal experience into one of universal resonance, offering a call to action, to keep walking onwards. Every footstep taken is an act of persistence. Every word written against the rising tide of hate speech, such as this book, is an act of resistance.
Endorsements & Media Reviews
“I Belong Here is a brilliant, brave and important book, which tells the story of two intertwining journeys: one made on foot and the other made in the heart; one across the rock and rivers of the Pennines, and another traversing the hard ground from hatred to forgiveness. Both challenging and beautiful to read, it is a book that calls out wrongness and is full of openness and hope. The cries of curlew and lapwing, the slow growth of lichen, the tending of flowers, the clarity of running water; these are formidably evoked against the forces of discrimination and prejudice. Anita’s is a vital and resonant voice in the writing of place and nature in Britain, and here she powerfully and movingly reclaims the landscape of the North as hers to love and belong in.”
– Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland
“A brave and powerful book…I Belong Here is incredibly moving, uplifting, hopeful, clear-sighted and beautifully written.”
– Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train.
‘In gorgeous prose that rolls along like the uplands, Anita Sethi opens our eyes to the beauty of our countryside and the hurt and healing found therein. It is rare to find writing that evokes landscape so finely but also conveys our inner world with such power, emotion, vulnerability and truth.I Belong Here deserves its place alongside the Macfarlanes and Macdonalds as a classic of modern British nature writing‘
– Patrick Barkham, author of Wild Child
“Anita Sethi invites her reader to walk, not just at her side, but in her shoes, and to feel for themselves both the exhilaration and the chagrin of travelling the backbone of her home country as a woman of colour. By turns joyous and humbling, ‘I Belong Here’ is an urgent and necessary addition to the canon of contemporary writing about place in the island of Britain.”
– Katharine Norbury, editor of Women on Nature and author of The Fish Ladder
“Excellent...A powerful memoir about nature and belonging and racism and Britishness, as Anita Sethi undertakes a journey to reclaim her space in Britain following a terrifying hate crime on public transport”
– Nikesh Shukla, author of Brown Baby and editor of The Good Immigrant.
“Bold, lyrical and compelling, Sethi redefines the nature genre with this brave and defiant book. Part memoir, part philosophy, part analysis of current British culture and politics, I Belong Here is a reminder to us all to speak out when we witness racism of any kind. It is a rousing and beautiful ode to hope and wildness. I loved it.”
– Emma Jane Unsworth, author of After the Storm, Adults and Animals
“A brilliantly accomplished mix of powerful memoir and revelatory nature writing, Sethi’s account of finding solace in the Northern countryside following a traumatic racial attack is a defiant act of reclamation and an astonishing piece of testimony.”
– Waterstones blog, Best Books to Look Forward to in 2021.
“A magnificent and redemptive achievement. Manchester-born Sethi achieves a powerful blend of memoir, travelogue and natural history as she reflects on nature, place and belonging; and at its beating heart, her book is a stirring love letter to this troubled country of ours. I find it so moving that such a beautifully written, hate-defying book has been born from such a horrific experience. I Belong Here is a shining example of how books, at their best, can be an act of resistance and a communal force for good.”
Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller Book of the Month/ Spring Highlights
“In a powerful blend of memoir, current affairs, travel and nature writing, “I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain” charts Sethi’s solo journeys on foot through the Pennine Hills – through the open spaces she had been longing for – on a mission to reclaim the landscapes of her beloved north country from the racist who had told her to “get back on the banana boat…”. [An] imbued sense of “northern-ness” is one of the most striking qualities of “I Belong Here”. Sethi riffs beautifully on north country vernacular with place names, and the names of geological features providing the starting-point from which to discuss a broad range of issues. For example, the chapter called “Scars” in which she writes about climbing Pen-y-Ghent via the high cliff known as Horton Scar is also a reflection on loss and PTSD and on healing. Arriving in the North Yorkshire town of Settle prompts her to ask questions about what it means to have a home, to belong, and what it is to lack or be displaced from these things. In fact the entire book is structured in an allegorical way as an activist journey around the human body, from Mouth (“Speaking Up” & Bearing Witness”) to Feet (“Walking and Witnessing). And the fact that the Pennine Hills are popularly known as the backbone of Britain inspires a meditation on what it means to have backbone in a metaphorical sense – what we mean by strength, what people need in the way of social support structures. In fact, just like the limestone strata of the Pennine sedimentary landscapes she so evocatively describes, “I Belong Here” is a work of many layers, with Sethi excavating everything from the mental health crisis, systemic racism, isolation, and what it means to have a voice, to the protected characteristics of the 2010 Equality Act. At a time when so many have someone to grieve for, “I Belong Here” is a book about bearing loss too. The book also beautifully expresses her love of the natural world, and her joy at the renewed sense of embodiment that comes from putting one foot in front of the other. Robert Macfarlane describes it as a “brilliant, brave and important book”, and Sethi herself as a “vital and resonant voice”. And indeed she is.”
Caroline Sanderson – From The Bookseller author profile of Anita Sethi
“A brilliant writer”
– NIKESH SHUKLA
On the Seasons nature writing anthology contribution:
“Beautiful, really moving”
– MELISSA HARRISON
On forthcoming piece in Women on Nature:
– KATHARINE NORBURY