Born in Michigan but deeply connected to the more mysterious land of her ancestry, Leslie Lee explores her own sense of belonging and origins in Ireland: We Are the Land.
After years tracing her family’s 19th century arrival in America from Ireland, aided by genetic ancestry kit results, Lee decides to go deeper into the past by hitting the road with her two sisters and close cousin. The four cram into a van and drive across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in a near quixotic quest to answer the burning question: “How did we come to be who we are?”
This is an intimate journey that’s both travelogue and memoir, interwoven with archaeological, historical, folkloric, and cultural details—all while elegantly tapping into the universal human yearning for roots. “People who…haven’t moved away from their homeland,” she writes, “can’t understand the deep longing of those of us who have been severed from our lineages and groundings.”
Lee chronicles their trip in chapters organized as journal entries and often introduced by her poems. She beautifully illustrates the book with colorful, hand-drawn maps and paintings. Throughout, she muses on the people and land while embarking on a daily quest for Guinness and visiting inns, churches, castles, Neolithic sites, and exquisite landscapes. The ending—where readers learn what happened to these women’s ancestors before they immigrated to America— is surprising and delightful.
This lovely book is hampered by a chapter that attempts to synthesize broad archaeological, genetic, historical and folkloric data about early modern human migrations from Africa into Eurasia, and ultimately Ireland. Lee simplifies the story, creating several factual errors, when the reality is messier and less linear. The overall narrative would flow better by improving this material and placing it in the Appendix, allowing Lee’s own family story to flow unbroken.
Despite these issues, Lee delivers an evocative memoir. Readers will find themselves engaged by this journey into the universal human yearning for belonging.