GCJ Book Club – Unearthed by Claire Ratinon

May 6, 2023

The cover of the book Unearthed by Claire Ratinon

The timing of reading Unearthed by Claire Ratinon was significant for me and I will explain why later. It strongly articulates why representation in nature writing is so important. Claire did this beautifully and so cleverly against a phenomena that we experienced globally.

Claire sets her chapters both in the past and current day. The past of her Mauritian ancesters, her parents’ lives and her own earlier years. The present around the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Growing up, Claire felt a disconnection from the natural world and separation from a place of belonging; seperate from her heritage, from where she was raised and where she studied and worked in the UK. A serendipitous discovery which led to her gardening at a rooftop farm in New York is where everything began to change.

Claire’s later move from the city to the English countryside coincided with the spring of the first 2020 pandemic lockdown and the murder of George Floyd. Yes we all lived through that time but our experiences divaricate in many ways. Amongst the pain, anger and anxiety of that year Claire uses her expertise and passion for growing food as well as the literal seeds she sows to build her own connections to nature, her ancestry, her new home and her future.

This story tells us again of the coalescing force of nature and how it can bring belonging wherever we are.

When I began reading this book, it just so happened that on the same weekend I visited two exhibitions, one about coalmining and one about Windrush, in my home town in Nottinghamshire. Myself and my family are white, we come from generations of coalminers, proud working class people who know exactly where they came from and knew that everyone around them came from the same place. The sense of belonging for us doesn’t come under question. At the mining exhibition we saw photographs of familiar places and faces we knew, tools, clothing, lamps and banners that all held stories so familiar that they could have been our own, some were our own. At the ‘It Runs Through Us’ Windrush exhibition we read testimonies and contemplated photographs that showed us equally proud, hard working people but everything about their stories were so different from our own. Whilst the exhibition was most definitely a celebration of their contributions to British society after the war, the challenges of racism and othering they faced were echoed in Claire’s words and fresh in my mind. These reminders were the backdrop to my experience of Unearthed and that will definitely stay with me for a long time. Thank you, Claire.