Anita Sethi’s I Belong Here: A Story of Reclamation

Our NRTH LASS book column was designed to spotlight northern women writers making remarkable moves in the world of publishing and April’s pick embodies that notion entirely. This month marks the release of Anita Sethi’s long-awaited I Belong Here, a memoir that documents a journey of reclaiming belonging and finding peace in natural landscapes.

In 2019, Anita Sethi was travelling through the North of England on a Transpennine train when she was the victim of a racially-motivated hate crime. Verbally attacked and threatened with racist remarks, the writer was made to feel unsafe in a space that she once felt like she could call her own. Despite growing up in Manchester, her right to exist in the UK came under fire from a stranger, an occurrence which happens all too often for people of colour in our country.

I Belong Here is an act of defiance against that attack. As well as bravely accounting the event, Sethi weaponises her voice by putting pen to paper and embarking on a journey through the natural landscapes of the North, reasserting her right to exist and her right to belong. Exploring nature writing through such a political and powerful lens is groundbreaking to say the least and it was truly a joy to read, even if the content was emotionally challenging at times.

Written in incredible prose, the book also explores the ways in which our natural spaces have historically been controlled, cordoned off for only a small, wealthy percentage to enjoy. Throughout the book, Sethi wrestles with notions of belonging, ownership and systemic exclusion, recalling moments throughout history when explorers have used walking as a form of protest. Spaces have been reclaimed through the simple act of exploration; Sethi’s journey to reclaim her own sense of identity and inner peace strongly mirrors this resistance.

One particular extract which stood out was the author’s investigation into the idea of trauma and healing, as well as the issues moments like the one she experienced expose. Always creating parallels between human nature and nature itself, she compares trauma to the ‘faults’ within limestone, cracks that widen and deepen over time.

Through stark and powerful words that read like a manifesto for change, she writes:

“What is often not considered and acknowledged as even existing is the wider landscape, it’s fault-lines and their effects. What happened to me on the train exposed fault-lines in our society, a mixture of racism and misogyny.”

Looking at social, political and economic equalities is a strong point of the book, all viewed through a nature-orientated and hopeful lens. Every word felt like a call to arms, a voice encouraging us to see nature as healing and to assert our right to exist in spaces that might try to exclude us.

Sethi is a powerhouse writer and her work deserves a place on every bookshelf, particularly this bold and important memoir. We can’t wait to see what she creates next.

I Belong Here was will be released on 29 April and you can purchase it here.

Words: Beth Barker 

Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England. 

Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.

For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.