Surfacing (Hardcover, 2019, Sort of Books) 5 stars

Unearthing the past

5 stars

Kathleen Jamie has a unique voice for teasing out poetic responses to landscape while also telling stories with a deceptive ease. This collection is about digging up stories of the past, with some shorter chapters surrounding three longer ones. The shorter are responsive while the longer are the centre-points for the book, and each deals with a different archaeology. The first of the three takes place in the Arctic tundra, where Jamie visits an archaeological dig with people from the Yup'ik culture who are collecting objects from hundreds of years ago that are being revealed by the melting ice. The second is at an archaeological dig on Westray island in Scotland on a prehistorical site of living. The third is an unearthing of Jamie's own memory, through her rediscovering a notebook from a trip to Tibet in her early 20s, at the time of the student protests in China. The sections weave together into a story (and a poem) about the marks that are made and erased in places.

As with all of Jamie's writing, the book has a wonderful, slow and thoughtful pace, and teases out its truer meaning as it progresses. While it is seamless when at its best, I felt the earlier sections a little too slow and too weighted with travelogue detail, but this is easily overlooked as the book progresses. The second half of the book is immaculate, and contains so many thoughtful passages and joyful moments that I feel like I have visited many of the places that Jamie makes real through words. The unearthing has taken place, and now all that is left is to decide what to do with all these stories.