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.


Launching The Book of Newcastle with Comma Press

Launched on the 6 February 2020 at Newcastle City Library, The Book of Newcastle continues to showcase new writing from the North of England by visiting the North East. A new addition to the Comma Press award-winning ‘Reading the City’ series, the book is a carefully collated collection of stories originating from the original Northern Powerhouse; The Book of Newcastle explores the city’s industrial heyday, when Tyneside engineering and innovation led the world, through decades of post-industrial decline, and lack of investment, to its more recent reinvention as a cultural destination for the North. 

Featuring stories from renowned literary talent, Julia Darling, to exciting contemporary author Jessica Andrews, the book draws on new and emerging writers to feature alongside established wordsmiths.

NRTH LASS spoke with the book’s editors, Angela Readman (poet and short story writer) and Zoe Turner (Publicity and Outreach Officer of Comma Press) to learn more.

How and why did you both come together to produce The Book of Newcastle?

ZT: The Book of Newcastle is a project that was started over ten years ago by Comma’s commissioning editor, Ra Page and originally edited by Angela as a smaller pamphlet publication called Newcastle Stories. Having lived in Newcastle for over twenty years, and being an award-winning author herself, Angela was a natural choice to co-edit this project with myself at Comma.

AR: The wonderful thing about us working together on the project, was getting a fresh perspective about the city, as the well as the perspective of someone more familiar with the area. Sometimes Zoe had questions about things I may have taken for granted, and it made me look at the city in a different light. It was like coming here for the first time all over again.

Why was it important for you to explore both the city’s fallen industrial past and continual lack of investment alongside its dreams for a prosperous future?

ZT: Newcastle, like any other city in this series, needed to be put into its historical and political context – when asking authors to work to the brief that their stories should be set in or against Newcastle’s geography, or its recent history, it was assumed that the stories would reflect through their characters and narratives, some more subtly than others, the past of the place and why the lives led there might be different from those led elsewhere.

AR: There’s something about knowing the past of a place that makes its dreams for the future feel even more fragile and precious. Though we didn’t specify that any of the writers had to write about fallen industry overtly, that sense of lingering worry appears in the stories and brings the characters to life.

Could you give us a brief summary of what we can expect from the ten stories?

ZT: Whisperings and longings – the personal that lies behind the strong identity of Newcastle, and the minute details which make up the city’s presence. 

AR: Loneliness, longing, and the loveliness of living in the city.

It’s great to see emerging writers alongside renowned literary talent. What were the main components you were looking for within each story?

ZT: What we were looking for from all of these stories, as with each collection in our ‘Reading the City’ series, was for them to touch on things that citizens of Newcastle would be familiar with, and which general readers outside of the city might not be. We wanted this collection to encapsulate an inside understanding of Newcastle but one that, at the same time, could be applied on a universal level. 

AR: For me, I always like to read short stories that make me forget where I am. I want stories to take me to a whole other place. With this book, that place was Newcastle, I wanted every story to take the reader there and invite them to look around.

Finally, after compiling so many stories of Newcastle, could you tell us what you love the most about the city and the north?

ZT: I only visited the city for the first time last week for the book’s launch event! But what struck me was the understated beauty of the place, and the protective power that the River Tyne seems to hold, which seems emblematic of the ferocious respect with which Newcastle’s people lift the city up.

AR: I love Newcastle for its resilience. I love the architecture built under grey skies, and our sense of just cracking on with it. Most of all, I love the humour of the north, it’s a gallows humour sometimes, and sometimes a wild celebration of living it up while you can. It feels like home.