Unearthed: On race and roots, and how the soil taught me I belong
Chatto & Windus (Vintage), £16.99 ISBN 978-1784744472
Claire Ratinon is passionate about growing organic vegetables; it’s in her soul. She has grown them for the Ottolenghi Restaurant, Rovi, written about them in The New Statesman and lectured at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. But it hasn’t always been this way.
This book documents the twists and turns in Claire’s often turbulent life that led her to find an identity through gardening, as a Black woman. We are led through her childhood in London, life as a documentary director, a foray into New York City and a rooftop farm, to the first year in her current home in the East Sussex countryside, where
she has finally found some solace in the soil.
It is an informative and enlightening read and certainly an emotional roller coaster. Her lyrical descriptions of nature and the pleasures of gardening are a joyous counterbalance to her hard-hitting personal experiences of racism and the troubling colonial history of her homeland, Mauritius, where the soil is more associated with colonialism and slavery. By the conclusion of the book, I felt I had gained a better understanding of the realities of being on the wrong side of racism and the challenges of wrestling with your identity and the attitudes of others.
The connection to growing food is constant throughout and it is a privilege to share her pleasure in growing vegetables, particularly those from Mauritius, which go some way to finally making her feel at home. Levity comes through her experience keeping chickens and demolishing a shed and it is impossible not to feel for Ratinon during her tough experience of working on an asparagus farm.
This is an outstanding work of storytelling and nature writing; Ratinon has a wonderful empathy with the British countryside, which is described so beautifully. It’s also a hard-hitting and educational read.
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