Unbelonging | Gayatri Sethi


Unbelonging by Gayatri Sethi

Out Now from Mango & Marigold Press; 280 pages

Content Warnings: Systemic racism, anti-Blackness, partition trauma, abuse, interpersonal violence, xenophobia, immigrant trauma, casteism, misogyny, anxiety

About the Author: “Gayatri Sethi is an educator, writer, and independent consultant based in Atlanta. She Teaches And Writes About Social Justice, Global Studies, And Comparative Education. Born in Tanzania and raised in Botswana, she is of South Asian Punjabi descent, multilingual, and polycultural. She reflects on these lifelong experiences of identity, immigration, and belonging in her debut book titled Unbelonging. When she is not homeschooling or recommending readings as Desi Book Aunty, she travels the globe with her students and family.” (Bio sent by the publisher)

Find Gayatri Sethi on the following platforms:

“thank heavens i know myself / enough to / not be limited / constrained / or contained / by words / that are not / my own.”

In an expansive work that encompasses the art of memoir, poetry, and intersectional feminist workbooks, debut author Gayatri Sethi dwells on the experiences of oppression and otherness—as she names it, the feeling of unbelonging. She writes on these experiences in the context of feeling “desi-ish” as a Punjabi woman born in Tanzania, teaching in America, and mothering bi-racial children. Sethi pours her soul onto each page, describing in visceral detail how she has come to claim her own strength while battling racism, misogyny, and the complexities of a multi-cultural identity. Unbelonging spans across decades, nations, and movements while remaining grounded in the self-reflection of one woman. 

Unbelonging is one of the most unique works that I’ve ever come across. I say “work” not only because it defies the limitations of genre, but because it both inspires and requires effort from the reader to evaluate and understand. I am not a person familiar with nearly any of the experiences Gayatri Sethi imparts in this piece—like being an immigrant, being brown, or having a family history spread across nations—so it was impossible for me to truly understand the emotions behind it. However, that did not take away from the rich storytelling and visceral verse of Sethi’s debut. It compelled me to take a deeper look at my own privileges and history while attempting to absorb the complex web of Sethi’s experiences. I found the format she wrote in to be refreshing and effective as well, with a mixture of poems, quotes, anecdotes, and research prompts organized by specific themes. It should be noted that this piece touches on heavy subjects, and while many young adult readers will have something to learn or connect to in this work, it may not be suitable for everyone. Unbelonging is a radical, profound, and complex piece which will enhearten readers to look both outside and inside themselves. 

(Pine Reads Review would like to thank Evina Yosiardi and the publisher for providing us with a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

PRR Assistant Director, Grace Kennedy