Book Review: Trek the Pennine Way with Anita Sethi in new memoir I Belong Here

After being subjected to a racist attack on a TransPennine Express train, Anita Sethi decided enough was enough. With no one on the train willing to step in and stop her abuser on his vicious tirade, she reached out to train staff and police herself, choosing to speak up for herself in a way she had rarely done before.

It wasn’t Sethi’s first experience with racism – far from it. But, the incident on the train became something of a turning point for the writer, as she grappled with her identity and sense of belonging in, not just the country of her birth, but mere miles from the city in which she was born.

I Belong Here charts that journey, in both a mental and physical sense, as Sethi decided to set out and walk across the Pennine Way, England’s first National Trail, known as the Backbone of Britain. Bringing her closer to nature and building an appreciation for the landscape she grew up alongside, I Belong Here sees Sethi reclaim the land for herself, defiantly returning to where she came from – just as the racists and bigots love to tell her to.

But it’s more than just an edifying walk through the hills and dales for Sethi. Instead her musings stretch from race, politics, and climate change, to natural history and etymology. As she unpacks the specifics of the abuse laden upon her that day on the train, or navigates the treacherous waters of silence and how it can embolden the worst in people; or is moved by something as gently simple as birdsong, Sethi’s writing is beautiful and laden with wonderful, evocative prose.

That said, there’s a clunky repetitiveness on occasion, and as a whole I Belong Here might have benefited from including more of the promised journey itself, rather than just what it came to mean to its author, or the various mental tangents along the way. With so much covered, the balance just wasn’t quite there, and the end result was – if you’ll pardon the pun – closer to a ramble than a planned hike.

Conceptually fascinating, and rooted in a celebration of reclamation, defiance, and rural Northern England (particularly pleasing for a Lancashire lass like me), there’s a lot to like about I Belong Here. There’s power in Sethi’s journey, and though it does lose its way here and there, it remains an engaging and potentially important musing on race, nature, and belonging.

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Anita Sethi’s I Belong Here is out now, published by Bloomsbury. Grab yourself a copy from Booktopia HERE.

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