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An unforgettable memoir about a family secret revealed by a DNA test, the lessons learned in its aftermath, and the indelible power of love—for readers of Wintering and Crying in H Mart.

The story of a long-held family secret, full of twists and turns, interwoven with a personal botanical history, Unearthing is a bold portrait of human relationships and a deeply thoughtful consideration of connection in our fragile and fractured world.

When a DNA test reveals that the father who raised her was not biologically related to her, Kyo Maclear becomes a detective in her own life, unravelling the mystery piece by piece in a search tied to the seasons, plant life, and the making of a garden.

Through its brief and beautifully composed chapters—each a portal—Maclear reflects on race and lineage, grief and loyalty, art and refuge, and the fierce and sometimes funny love between a mother and daughter, to tell a captivating and propulsive story of inheritance that goes beyond heredity.

What gets planted, and what gets buried? What role does storytelling play in unearthing the past and making sense of a life, particularly in the shadows of missed opportunities and failing memories? Can the act of tending a garden provide common ground, and even joy, for an inquisitive daughter and her reticent mother? As it seeks to answer these questions, Unearthing bursts with the very love it seeks to understand.

Unearthing book cover
Unearthing book cover
Image of Unearthing book cover

“In this magnificent, searing memoir, Kyo Maclear takes us on a journey that is at once singular and utterly universal. What forces contribute to who we are and who we become? And what happens when the story we know to be true of ourselves is uprooted, unearthed? In poetic language that cuts to the bone, Maclear grapples with these questions and the result is a profound reading experience. I will never forget it.”
—Dani Shapiro

Unearthing is simply staggering. Maclear takes the shocking revelations of a DNA test and transforms them into a mind-altering and supremely generous exploration of kinship, selfhood, memory, and the roots we share across time, space and species. A quantum leap for an already brilliant and profound writer and thinker.”
—Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything


“Poetic, elliptical…By pairing the untangling of her family tree with an appreciation of the entanglement of the natural world, Maclear meditates on our desire to impose clear-cut boundaries on what comprises kinship and inheritance…a unique take on the paternity mystery memoir, one that eschews a predetermined narrative arc for a wide-ranging exploration of what it means to be a family…generous, open-handed.”

“A moving account of a daughter’s struggle to know her mother before she loses her…Maclear is a beautiful and thorough writer. She accomplishes moving portraits of all three of her parents, all from fascinating and wildly different backgrounds…This story is a reminder of the abundance of experience present in all families, and the power and healing that can come from honoring those many truths.”
The Washington Post

“Maclear meditates on genealogy and family secrets in her impressive memoir… Maclear’s precise, hypnotic prose will appeal to readers of Margaret Renkl. This quiet story lingers.”
Publishers Weekly

“A deeply thoughtful meditation on secrets and stories, race and lineage, grief and grace – all told through the narrative of the common language … tending to a shared garden. As Maclear presses her reluctant mother for answers to the questions that have blown her life wide open, she comes to realize that amid the muddled memories and half-truths also lie lessons in what it takes for new things to grow – patience, pragmatism and a willingness to accept beauty (whether in flowers and plants or the ineffable bonds of family) in all its wild, unruly forms.”
Tabassum Siddiqi, The Globe and Mail

“Maclear’s writing is poetic in the best sense. Using the image of her mother’s wild, rambling garden as a foundation, Maclear examines these questions in detail, without proposing a pat answer to any of them because, ultimately, they are unanswerable. Instead, Maclear allows the reader to struggle with them as she did, granting her audience the space and silence to reconcile the gaps and secrets in their own lives.”

“A powerful, captivating new memoir.”

Unearthing could have been about Maclear’s quest to discover the truth about her paternity, but instead it is something far more interesting: a mystery about Maclear’s mother. The result is a lyrical … meditation on nature, kinship and the lives of both humans and plants.”
The New Statesman

“Unearthing tells [a] complex story with delicacy and charm.”
The Mail

“In recursive, often incantatory prose, Maclear meditates on the fragile nature of kinship and memory. A finely plotted and intricate narrative, Unearthing reimagines the garden metaphor and explores the porous grounds of self, culture and belonging. This quiet, arresting work softens the line between memoir and philosophy.”
Peer assessment committee, Governor General’s Literary Awards

“Many memoirs have examined issues of paternity and parental infidelity, but Maclear’s stands out due to elegant writing and insightful musings on the making and shaping of identities, always with the garden behind her to provide an anchor… A lovely meditation on the hidden past and the blossoming present.”
Kirkus Reviews

“This is a thrilling family memoir mystery that really lets the reader in on the unspooling and respooling of Kyo’s family story and a series of revelations that redefine her sense of her own family and past. But really that’s just the headlines, or the outlines of what she is up. There is something else going on… Something planty, alchemical and atmospheric that has stayed with me… this is a book that made me feel alive. I don’t want to explain its plot or structure or what I discovered by reading it. Rather I want to induce you to breath in its air.”
—Jason Logan, Toronto Ink Company

“The memoir is about so much more than solving genetic ¬mysteries. It sheds light on the complexity of social bonds and offers beautiful explorations of forgiveness and the elusive nature of truth.… Maclear’s literary attempts to make sense of her unlikely path into being are the most insightful and beautifully wrought I’ve read on the subject.”
Emma Gilchrist, Literary Review of Canada

“A brilliantly told memoir about love, marriage, hope and regret—about life. …[Unearthing explores] the burden of carrying a secret … uncovering—unearthing—more than [Maclear] could ever have imagined when she began.”
Parry Sound North Star

“One of the family secrets in Kyo Maclear’s masterful, original and poetic memoir involves one of the most famous women in the world, but you’ll have to read to find out… A mix of literary tactics like repetition and short form sections, this unique, powerful and captivating memoir mixed with gardening and plant life, is truly a wow.”
Zibby Owens, Good Morning America

“With Maclear’s distinct delivery, the motif of gardening that runs through the audiobook brings listeners–and the author–respite and insights. Both her writing and reading allow listeners to experience the richness of truths blossoming in the light.”
Audiofile Magazine

“Alluring.” —The Bookseller

“In this beautiful book Kyo Maclear unravels the knotty stories we inherit – and create – about who we are and where we come from. With deftness and clarity she ranges from meditations on memory, belonging and truth, to the earthy tangibility of the garden. Fierce, loving, inquisitive, devastating – this book got under my nails and into my heart. I loved it.”
—Lulah Ellender, author of Grounding: Finding Home in a Garden

“A tender and precious gift of a book, that holds out grief like an opening flower. Deeply moving, beautifully written and delicately delivered, its story holds a profound truth about the complexity and simplicity of what it is to love, and to lose, and what it means to find ourselves within both.”
—Victoria Bennett, author of All My Wild Mothers: Motherhood, loss and an apothecary garden

“I could not put this gorgeous book down. Maclear interweaves her personal and family story with that of the plants she encounters and grows, subtly revealing how knowing the truth of our own stories is an essential part of navigating a world in ecological crisis. Unearthing is the rarest kind of book: at once vulnerable and precise, gentle but unforgettable. ”
—Jessica J. Lee, Two Trees Make a Forest

“A lucid and compelling memoir of family rupture and repair and the power of plants to anchor us in the world”
—Sue Stuart-Smith, author of The Well-Gardened Mind

“Unearthing is a masterful lyric exploration of identity, inheritance and belonging in the wake of an unsettling discovery, that deftly queries what makes us who we are, and what happens when the stability of our foundations is challenged. It investigates nature, nurture and genetic legacies, who our parents are before and beyond us, and who we become because or despite them. Both seasonal, contemporary and spiralling through botanic and genetic time, the writing is absorbing and transformative; the story will grow through you.”
—Polly Atkin, author of Some of Us Just Fall

Read an extract from Unearthing
Purchase the audiobook from Audible
A block print of a plant with broad leaves in silhouette.