"I knew in every bone of my body, in every fibre of my being, that I had to report what had happened, not only for myself but to help stop anyone else having to go through what I did. I knew I could not remain silent, or still, I could not stop 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 I Belong Here, is an act of resistance.
Prologue: A Place Called Hope
Onwards: A TransPennine Express Journey
1. Speaking Up
2. Bearing Witness
Wanted: A Long Green Trail
3. If Your Nerve Deny You, Go Above Your Nerve
4. You Make Your Own Path as You Walk
5. Walking as a Woman of Colour
6. On Race and Place
Malham Cove and Limestone Country
7. Protected Characteristics
8. On Strength, Courage and Trauma
9. Going Viral
Upwards: A Pennine Journy
The Way: North Pennines to Hadrian's Wall (via Manchester)
12. Northern Nature
13. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
15. Walking and Witnessing
Epilogue: Up From a Past that's Rooted in Pain
Anita Sethi was born in Manchester, UK and has been published in anthologies including Common People edited by Kit de Waal and The Seasons nature writing anthology edited by Melissa Harrison. She is in Women on Nature edited by Katharine Norbury. Her writing has appeared in the Guardian and Observer, Sunday Times, Telegraph, New Statesman, Times Literary Supplement and BBC Wildlife, and broadcasting credits include BBC Radio 4's Open Book, Front Row and Today programmes, and Sky News. She has judged the British Book Awards, Society of Authors Awards and Costa Book Awards.
– One of Waterstones Best Books to Look Forward to in 2021
– The Bookseller's Book of the Month
– A Guardian 2021 Literary Highlight
"For anyone who has ever felt out of place, I Belong Here is a moving and comforting read. For everyone else, it is an education. Punchier and more political than most nature writing, this book is a thing of beauty."
– Sunday Times
"Nature's beauty and wilderness provide a welcome escape from Sethi's city life and kickstart a healing process as she becomes enveloped in the great outdoors, taking us on an emotional journey at the same time. It's an amazing odyssey: inspiring, powerful, encouraging and incredibly brave."
"Forever asked where she's from originally, Sethi writes that she has always felt like an 'outsider'. Instead, this passionate and reflective book stakes her claim to the English countryside and nature writing itself."
– New Statesman
"A heartfelt examination of identity and place [...] it is the way Sethi's connection to nature is refracted through her experience as a woman of colour that gives the book its rare power."
"Restored and enlivened by the wonders of nature, Anita Sethi finds the courage to embrace her vulnerabilities and strengths and to claim her place in the world. A brave and life-affirming book."
– Sunday Express
"An unforgettable journey [...] the genius of the author is how she takes the narrative of hatred and discrimination hurled at her and turns it upside down by 'going back to where she is from' – the landscapes of the north. Not only deeply moving but also quietly transformative."
– The Observer
"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
"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
"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. A brilliant writer."
– Nikesh Shukla, author of Brown Baby
"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
"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."
– Best Books to Look Forward to in 2021, Waterstones
"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/Editor's Choice review
"A powerful and moving memoir"
– BBC Countryfile Magazine
"Incredibly powerful, moving and beautifully told. Full of wild magic. This book will make the world a better place."
– Lucy Jones, author of Losing Eden