Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie: Book Review

We are constantly reminded of how we have made our presence on this planet toxic. Not just to the land but to the people too. This book is a collection of stories that will stay with you forever, and make you wonder what life might be like if we started to love our planet once again.

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In this remarkable blend of memoir, cultural history, and travelogue, poet and author Kathleen Jamie touches points on a timeline spanning millennia, and considers what surfaces and what reconnects us to our past. From the thawing tundra linking a Yup’ik village in Alaska to its hunter-gatherer past to the shifting sand dunes revealing the impressively preserved homes of neolithic farmers in Scotland, Jamie explores how the changing natural world can alter our sense of time. Most movingly, she considers, as her father dies and her children leave home, the surfacing of an older, less tethered sense of herself. In precise, luminous prose, Surfacing offers a profound sense of time passing and an antidote to all that is instant, ephemeral, unrooted. -Goodreads

My Review

My Rating: 5/5

In her essay, ‘The Wind Horse,’ Kathleen Jamie says, “often I wished I would draw, like the art students. I’d have drawn those yaks chewing the cud, their animal patience.” For anyone who reads that essay, let alone the whole book, they will see as I do: Jamie has no need for drawing when her words bring to life the image she wishes for us to see.

This short collection of essays is a beautiful collection. Two of the larger essays cover Jamie’s time working on archaeological digs, and the others are more like thoughts whilst traveling. There is a deeper purpose to all these essays than just showing us what Jamie has seen. In the first essay, Jamie talks of the erosion that will destroy what is left of a community’s history; in ‘Links of Noltland’ we hear of erosion once again eradicating a long-lost history.

In ‘Links of Noltland,’ Jamie thinks about what an alien race might ask of us: “‘Was your world once wild?’ a distant intelligence might ask. Yes, we’d say. Till it went under our ploughs and the hooves of our cattle. Under the weight of our stuff.”

We are constantly reminded of how we have made our presence on this planet toxic. Not just to the land but to the people too. This book is a collection of stories that will stay with you forever, and make you wonder what life might be like if we started to love our planet once again.

I will end on this quote: “You are not lost. You followed your map. There is a path – there is always a path through the wood; there has been since the dawn of time. The trees step aside to make one… You are not lost, just melodramatic. The path is at your feet, see? Now carry on.”

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