THE PLOT: ‘Unearthed’ by Claire Ratinon is a mix of memoir and nature writing about race and roots. Claire is an organic food grower and writer of Mauritian heritage. The book starts as she moves from London to the Sussex countryside in 2019. It chronicles the early days of the pandemic and murder of George Floyd, while mediating on the relationship of Black and Brown people to the land and the effects of colonialism. Swiftly moving between topics like Mauritian history, eco-fascism and migration, this book is a seamless blend of personal stories and social issues against a backdrop of Claire’s budding garden.
RATING: Warning – I am pre-disposed to like this book because I have a lot in common with the author. We grew up near each other (shout out Surrey), are around the same age and seemingly have similar backgrounds. In my 30’s, I am hoping to leave London (the city of my upbringing) to move to the countryside. Although I know very little about gardening and that’s not the focus of the move, I hope to have my own vegetable patch. Either because of these similarities or because of the uncanny timing with my desired move, I really enjoyed reading ‘Unearthed’. It was a bit different to my normal reads – very slow and reflective, with long chapters that covered different topics. And, despite my family’s insistence that I shouldn’t move because there are no Black people in the countryside and everyone will be racist, it oddly reassured me that my hopes are possible.
GOOD BITS: With long chapters and delicious descriptions of nature, this is a book to take your time with and sink into. It manages to be many things; a memoir set during the pandemic, a testimony on racism, a well-made argument about the dangers of eco-fascism, and a history of colonialism. It’s rare that an author can tie this all together so seamlessly, so this book feels like an achievement. In particular, I really liked learning about the history of Mauritius and I enjoyed interrogating how I talk about the English countryside and ideas of who is entitled to live there.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: The descriptive passages about the garden were extremely long and slowed the pacing. Although beautiful, it was like being hit with a wall of adverbs and I ended up skipping over sentences to get through. At least fifty pages could have been cut by trimming these down and it would have been a much tighter book as a result. Additionally, this book is very middle-class and privileged. The author is self-aware and I don’t think that’s a huge problem – it is what it is – but I reckon it could put some people’s backs up.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘The Purpose of Power’ by Alicia Garza, ‘Pure Style in the Garden’ by Jane Cumberbatch and ‘The Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn. This would be a great book for those who love nature but are also interested in anthropology, history and social issues.
Thank you to We Are Media Hive for my #gifted copy. ‘Unearthed’ is available to buy now.