On Plants, Borders, and Belonging

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Book Description

A prize-winning memoirist and nature writer turns to the lives of plants entangled in our human world to explore belonging, displacement, identity, and the truths of our shared future

A seed slips beyond a garden wall. A tree is planted on a precarious border. A shrub is stolen from its culture and its land. What happens when these plants leave their original homes and put down roots elsewhere?

In fourteen essays, Dispersals explores the entanglements of the plant and human worlds: from species considered invasive, like giant hogweed; to those vilified but intimate, like soy; and those like kelp, on which our futures depend. Each of the plants considered in this collection are somehow perceived as being ‘out of place’—weeds, samples collected through imperial science, crops introduced and transformed by our hand. Combining memoir, history, and scientific research in poetic prose, Jessica J. Lee meditates on the question of how both plants and people come to belong, why both cross borders, and how our futures are more entwined than we might imagine.

About the Author

Jessica J. Lee Author Photo
© Ricardo Rivas

Praise For This Book

Bookshop, A Most Anticipated Title of the Year

"A terrific work on how borders work to keep both people and plants separated." —Lorraine Berry, The Los Angeles Times

"Contemplative, elegant." —Sophie McBain, The New Statesman

"Weaving material from literary, personal, scientific and historical sources, Lee examines plants—including seaweed and far beyond it—that broach human borders, exploring their migrations alongside her own . . . Lee writes intimately about her own oscillating cravings for movement and rootedness against a backdrop of COVID and new motherhood . . . Dispersals asks readers to consider how plants challenge not only spatial borders but taxonomic ones." —Erica Berry, Scientific American

"Lee’s lyrical prose sprouts from a fertile ground of intensive research and intimate memories—memories that are by turns sharply vivid and pleasantly hazy with the distance of time." —Katja Vujić, The Cut

"In a time of uncertainty and climatic instability, Dispersals is a quiet yet probing meditation on what it means to inhabit our world as we've made it." —Rose Rankin, BookBrowse

"Lee evokes a centuries-long history of border crossings—by people and by plants—to throw into question what it means to really belong, love, and protect, and what our collective future might hold on a planet forever evolving in the wake of trans-continental migration." —Amy Brady, Literary Hub

"Exquisite, haunting . . . Lee continues her insistent, clear-eyed quest for nourishment and vitality, even when both are complicated, and encourages readers to do the same." —Shelf Awareness (starred review)

"Lee does a masterful job of blending personal reflection with natural and political history, and her prose is crystalline . . . This deserves a wide audience." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Richly textured . . . These essays critically probe the native/nonnative paradigm of invasive-species ecology. Lee’s voice will stay with readers long after they finish this book." —Library Journal (starred review)

"Lee writes lucidly about her encounters with various plant species and poses reflective questions about plants and her own sense of belonging. Memoir readers interested in plants and environmental studies especially will find a poignant meditation on the parallels between plants and human societies when it comes to life's transitions and movements." —Booklist

"The author laces her histories with a subtle and personal optimism. Just as those plants replanted far from home, we can adapt to transition, dispersal, and recollection. An insightful meditation on nature and identity within 'a world in motion.'" —Kirkus Reviews

"Exquisite, haunting . . . Lee continues her insistent, clear-eyed quest for nourishment and vitality, even when both are complicated, and encourages readers to do the same." —Shelf Awareness