In her elegant collection of essays, acclaimed Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie considers how time and place shift within a rapidly changing world, unearthing the past and untethering the present, whether while on an archeological dig in Arctic Alaska, in the Highlands, or stopped along a country road. A combination of longer think pieces and shorter meditations, with lyrical simplicity as its through line, Surfacing is itself a welcome practice in timelessness.
“[Kathleen Jamie’s] essays guide you softly along coastlines of varying continents, exploring caves, and pondering ice ages until the narrator stumbles over — not a rock on the trail, but mortality, maybe the earth’s, maybe our own, pointing to new paths forward through the forest.” —Delia Owens, author of Where the Crawdads Sing, “By the Book” in The New York Times Book Review.
An immersive exploration of time and place in a shrinking world, from the award-winning author of Sightlines.
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 impressiely 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.
About the Author
Kathleen Jamie, one of the UK's foremost poets, is the author of four books of poetry and three nonfiction titles, including Sightlines. Her many awards and honors include the 2017 Royal Geographic Society Ness Award, conferred upon Jamie "for outstanding creative writing at the confluence of travel, nature and culture"; the 2013 Costa Book Award; as well as numerous prestigious poetry awards, including the Somerset Maugham Award, Forward Poetry Prize of the Year, and Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award (twice). A professor of creative writing at the University of Stirling, she lives with her family in Fife, Scotland.
Shortlisted for the 2020 Highland Book Prize
“[Kathleen Jamie’s] essays guide you softly along coastlines of varying continents, exploring caves, and pondering ice ages until the narrator stumbles over — not a rock on the trail, but mortality, maybe the earth’s, maybe our own, pointing to new paths forward through the forest.” —Delia Owens, author of Where the Crawdads Sing, “By the Book” in the New York Times Book Review.
“Splendid… Jamie’s crisp language places you in a near-meditative state.” —Monica Drake, The New York Times Book Review
“Jamie connects the relics of distant ages with the daily routines in front of her…. Jamie appears more gregarious than Thoreau and most other nature writers. While the genre is deeply populated by solitaries, her essays brim with people.” —Danny Heitman, Wall Street Journal
"Throughout it all, the reader encounters passages of breathtaking beauty [...] though Jamie always finds herself relentlessly tugged away from primordial beauty toward anxieties of the modern world and a looming sense of catastrophe, the immediacy of her surroundings giving way to a geologic sense of time." —Ernest Hilbert, The Washington Post
“Like her previous works, Surfacing is rich in connections and observations that grant the reader new ways of seeing …. Jamie excavates long-forgotten memories in some, and then writes of two very different digs in northern lands that are as stark and beautiful as any nature writing but also witty and well-peopled – qualities less typical of the genre.” —Patrick Barkham, The Guardian
"Kathleen Jamie's stories of what the earth revels as our coastlines erode pose a profoundly important question: what is it that our civilization has lost sight of and might the artifacts uncovered there help us to heal our relationships with each other and the more-than-human world? To read Surfacing is to travel in the company of a curious and dear friend, equally attuned to the hawk on the horizon as she is to the ground beneath her feet." —Elizabeth Rush, author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore
"In Surfacing, Kathleen Jamie—one of Scotland’s leading poets and an exquisite prose writer—tracks travel observations and reflects on the passage of time. The book is stoked with her precise, often arresting language. [...] It is Jamie’s keen and quiet power of observation and her affection for the big story of the human species that seem to me the most bracing tonic for our contentious times." —Alison Hawthorne Deming, Science Magazine
"In Surfacing there is a poet’s economy with words, a stripped clarity… she shows throughout this astonishing work, it is in looking — attuning ourselves to nature and culture, past and present — that we find our compass." —Barbra Kiser, Nature Magazine
"Surfacing is a great companion for autumn’s natural melancholy and meditative feel. Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie weaves together lucid essays about aging, archaeology, travel, and the erosion of natural resources and sacred wild places. She captures that end-of-summer sadness, when you’re taking stock of your year and slowing down as the days get shorter. The book is about changing landscapes and human impact, but it’s also about memory and paying attention, as she visits Ice Age caves and rides on high-speed trains. It’s a series of tight visual scenes, beautifully told, and it’s worth blocking out an afternoon to spend time with." —Outside
“Jamie’s writing has a deceptive simplicity: its powers are cumulative. Her way is to build impressionistic detail by recounting conversations, travels, observations of the natural world, and then carefully layer it in. It is its own kind of archaeology. Every now and then, however, she cuts through the assemblage of beautiful prose with a stinging comment: a reminder that the natural balance is out of whack, or that violence and menace can surface just as easily as venerable artefacts from the past.” —Marina Benjamin, author of Insomnia, in the New Statesman
"In a lyrical, beautifully rendered collection of essays, poet Jamie (Sightlines) meditates on the natural world, lost cultures, and the passage of time….Jamie’s observations about time and the interconnectedness of human lives, past and present, are insightful, and her language elegant. The result is a stirring collection for poetry and prose readers alike.” —Publishers Weekly
"Surfacing is a book whose impact is accretive and, eventually, astonishing … It’s wonderful writing, testing the limits of nonfiction." —Alex Preston, The Guardian
"This is a beautiful book, and a wise one. It invites feeling and thought." —The Scotsman
"With language so thrilling it makes all other writing feel insipid for a while…Jamie’s powers of observation have not flagged. She continues to conjure up heart stopping images…It is the little details Jamie picks up on that makes these essays so touching.” —The Big Issue
Praise for Kathleen Jamie:
“A sorceress of the essay form. Never exotic, down to earth, she renders the indefinable to the reader’s ear. Hold her tangible words and they’ll take you places.” —John Berger, author of Ways of Seeing and About Looking
“The leading Scottish poet of her generation.” —The Sunday Times (London)