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Unearthed: Love, Acceptance, and Other Lessons from an Abandoned Garden
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Unearthed: Love, Acceptance, and Other Lessons from an Abandoned Garden

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  275 ratings  ·  65 reviews
In this moving memoir, a woman digs into a garden and into the past and finds secrets, beauty, and acceptance.

Alex’s father dies just as she and her husband buy a nondescript house set atop an acre of wilderness that extends into a natural gorge in the middle of the city. Choked with weeds and crumbling antique structures, the abandoned garden turned wild jungle stirs che
Hardcover, 277 pages
Published July 5th 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Showing 1-30
3.74  · 
Rating details
 ·  275 ratings  ·  65 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Aug 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
3.5 A house bought, a huge overgrown garden that had once been part of a huge estate. As the treasures in the garden are uncovered so too does Alexandra try to uncover the lives of her Ukrainian immigrant parents, two people who argued extensively but never talked about their past lives. Part memoir, part family story, part gardening and the discovery of unique specimens in her new garden. Lovely book, much humor, some back story of two daughters who grew up with a father who never directly talk ...more
Apr 09, 2017 rated it liked it
It seems we are on a parallel path, my mother and I, of reliving the past – her in her memory and me in my research. Sadly, we each walk alone.

As Unearthed opens, Alexandra Risen is saying goodbye to her father as he lays comatose in his hospital bed; noting the fact that in the twenty years she lived at home, the brooding, reclusive man may have said one word to her per year. Now that her father was almost gone, Risen knew that those twenty or so words would be all she ever got. At about the
Kathleen Nightingale
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was a really enjoyable read. It allowed me to reflect on my youth growing up with a backyard in Toronto that backed onto a ravine. I have come to the conclusion that Alexandra Risen bought a home that backs onto the Bayview extension or Rosedale Valley Road. Areas of Toronto which bring back fond memories.

One of the quotes in the book is:

A garden is a state of mind. Tranquil sanctuary for walks work play reading and laughter. A place to find receptive and remember your core of self. To
J.S. Green
Jun 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
The second daughter of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, Alexandra Risen saw the way they valued the land and their meager possessions. It wasn't a lesson she internalized until much later, however, when she and her husband purchased a home with huge gardening potential. Beginning with the death of her father - whom she tells us only ever spoke 20 words to her - and ending with the death of her mother after a struggle with Alzheimer's, we see her come to grips with her upbringing by parents who su ...more
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
This summer, my wife and I moved our family into a home enveloped by trees on an acre of land just a block off Roosevelt Road in a near Chicago suburb. So I wanted to love this book about a family moving into their own magical acre near downtown Toronto, and I like the meticulous way Risen approaches both her garden and her writing. But this was just too hippy-dippy for me. I read to the end, but it kept getting more and more cringe-worthy, capped by a ceremony where Risen's family is dragged in ...more
Diane Schuller
Dec 24, 2016 rated it liked it
I really should not have read this over such a long stretch of time -- it was in-between reading and late-night before-bed so I may have an unfairly jaded view for that reason.

I enjoyed her writing style but felt that sometimes too much detail was spent on the garden aspect. And I'm a gardener! I did enjoy how she finally brought things together and, especially what she got out of her gardening and how it helped her deal with her life with her parents, and her sister to a degree as well.

Hard to
Bonnie Parkins
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was ok
I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. I like memoirs, I like gardens. It ought to be great. The premise of finding the reason her parents, especially her father, were cold and distant by making endless metaphors comparing her personal journey of her understanding to her garden-building project was just too too contrived. And didn't work for me. She's like one of those people to whom you say something and they immediately turn it around so that it is about them. "Father's district is mou ...more
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mcls-audio
I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Hillary Huber. Ms Huber often decreased the volume of her voice, for effect I supposed, so low that I had to adjust the volume of my mp3 player, reverse and replay. I wasn't too long before I simply assumed that what I was unable to hear was a terribly soulful, deep passage not that important to the memoir and just moved on.

At first I enjoyed that the author combined her search for her immigrant parents story with the restoration of the overgrown, neglec
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gardening
Alexandra Risen's parents emigrated to Canada from the Ukraine after World War II. Her parents often fought and it wasn't a happy household to grow up in. Her one comfort and escape was the ravine behind her family home. Risen grew up loving the outdoors and hiking. When Risen and her husband see a house for sale with a huge abandoned garden, she knows she must rebuild the garden. At first it feels like a way to connect with her mother who's health is failing and has recently moved into a retire ...more
Feb 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, gardening
Very poignant story with two strands - the author’s conflicted past with her parents who had suffered greatly in their Ukraine/Eastern Europe wartime experiences. They had agrarian roots and migrated to the west where they hoped to be able to farm. Alexandra grew up with little awareness of their roots and although both parents were hard-working and sought the best for her and sister, they shared little of their past. With her Dad passed on and her mother entering a difficult aging process, Alex ...more
Pat Mills
I loved this book. Alexandra Risen has written a universal gardeners story and immigrants life lesson and parenting in nature lessons one thru ten all in one book. It is rather extraordinary how many of its themes touch my own life and interests right now. The decisions of palliative care, a good death, silence about the war, not being a boy, finding craftsmen who share your vision enough to fill in the unknowns, the joy of discovery, ... the list is long. And yet the chapters flow quite natural ...more
Colette Connors
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It's gardening season ,I picked up this book on the recommendation of a patron at the library.I am struggling to bring my wasteland of a shade garden back to life and looking for inspiration .This was a gargantuan garden renovation done by Alexandra Risen , her family,friends and experts,but more than that it was the story of her Mom and Dad parents ,whom she knew nothing about,(and she was not adopted)
Fascinating, full of plant info and a bonus! I loved the back story of her parents
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was an enchanting read. The story is about a family moving into a house with a "wild backyard". As she strives to keep the wildness while cultivating a way to be able to move through the yard, she also shares stories of her family life. At times it was a wee bit pretentious (maybe I'm just jealous not to have endless amounts of $$ to do the work we need to do in our yard). But for the most part I really enjoyed it.
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
The author and her husband purchase a home with an overgrown ravine in their backyard. Over multiple years they reclaim and restore it with the help of numerous hired workers and volunteers. Nature enriches them and their son. Juxtaposed in this memoir is the author's loss of first her father and then her mother, as she seeks to learn about her parents' past in the Ukraine.
Lynn Wyvill
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm sitting in a lovely space of book completion, where I can say, "Ah, what a lovely book." The author wove together her history, her love and concerns for her son and her relationship with her partner into a lumpy and real story. The garden evolves as life does, with unexpected turns and surprising joys. And I'm left with satisfaction and hope for my own unwieldy garden of living.
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Love, death, grief...restoring a garden as well as a past. I liked this book a lot, the writing, the people, the plants, the pond. Being the eldest child of immigrants to Canada in 1959 I related to a lot of Risen's memories, her childhood. Glad I picked this one up.
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
The author tried to cover too many things. I liked some of it, the fact that the author found a garden on the property she purchased, but not the book as a whole. I read it last year so I may read it again, and see if I feel differently.
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Review to come.
Marie A
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
The story is great to listen too, Hilary Huber is my favorite narrator.
May 09, 2017 rated it liked it
A family takes on the gargantuan task of restoring an abandoned and over grown garden.
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
A little gem.
Stephen Lachan
Oct 07, 2017 rated it did not like it
Couldn't wait to finish ( not in a good way)... the author is insufferably out of touch and the story is unrelatable unless you happen to be a multimillionaire and within the .1%
Dec 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is worth reading, and lovely. I loved following Risen's journey in rehabilitating her big, sloped-ravine backyard outside of Toronto. Her family history was interesting too, although I thought at times the family-gardening metaphors were a bit forced. It was also a bit painful to follow Risen's descriptions of her marriage and relationships with everyone in the book. I think she probably overplays this in a self-deprecating way, but as it's written, she's really, really hard on everyon ...more
Susan Burke
Mar 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Love a book that brings me back to my own roots, makes me want to seek answers for questions that have lingered long in my mind. How relationships live and breath, how the earth beneath our feet heaves and hoes, how the splendidness of a well-preened garden makes our hearts sing, bringing us to a place of silent tribute; a tribute to those we love, those we nurture, those we don't understand and those who leave us wondering what we could have done better or how we could have loved just a little ...more
I love to look at plants, I love to eat them, I don't love to work in the yard or garden other than sometimes puttering around the clay pots of herbs on my lanai, but there is something that pulled me into this book where a couple buys a house with a large overgrown garden in terrible disrepair and spend 10 years and much time, effort and financial outlay to restore it. Unearthed is a beautifully written memoir that not only documents Alexandra Risen's experiences reclaiming her abandoned garden ...more
Carrie C
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! Reminded me a bit about my grandparents garden in Toronto.
Jun 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Just as the author and her husband buy an acre property just outside downtown Toronto, her father dies. This doesn’t make much of a difference in Risen’s life; in her entire life he has hardly ever spoken to her. He didn’t ignore her; he would work on projects with her- silently. That was pretty much their only interaction. It wasn’t that he couldn’t speak; her parents had long, loud arguments all the time. Her mother, always working in the garden or putting food by, is now alone and getting fra ...more
Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-reads
I enjoyed this book. I loved reading the descriptions of the garden and how they fixed it up.
Feb 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't usually read memoirs or autobiographies, but this memoir reads more like a novel and I had to remind myself it is a true story. I am familiar with this area of Toronto, so I could easily picture the struggle of the author and her husband trying to rescue this abandoned garden. At the same time, she is wrestling to understand the wartime past of her parents and how it affected the kind of parents they were able to be to her sister and her. A good read, and left me wanting to get out in th ...more
Jenn Ballmann
Jul 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book was sent to me by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for review purposes. As always all opinions are my own.

I'm not sure if I've ever read a memoir before, my reading habits tend to lean more toward vampires, sci-fi, time travel, or the occasional cozy mystery—but Unearthed caught my eye because I saw a lot of parallels between the author's family and my paternal grandparents. They weren't immigrants, but they both grew up in a children's home during the depression and post WWII age. It was a t
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Alexandra loves nature and is a closet geologist. She lives and gardens with her husband and rescued dog, Hunter. UNEARTHED is her first book.

2018 Shortlist: The Kobzar Literary Award
2018 Shortlist: The Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors

"As she restores the property and heals her long-troubled soul, Risen paints a vivid and exquisite portrait of nature and its profound significance." -Publishe