Untethered by Hayley Katzen


Untethered is the memoir of Hayley Katzen, an academic turned ‘farmer's wife’ and her search for home, while she ponders ideas of belonging. The story starts with Katzen’s first interactions at the remote Australian cattle farm called Tywyah; she’s driving to attend her eventual life partner - Jen- 40th birthday. We quickly learn that Katzen is an immigrant from South Africa who now teaches law at university. This story encapsulates how hard, yet rewarding and refreshing it can be to find the most in places that have the least. 



Untethered is the memoir of Hayley Katzen, an academic turned ‘farmer's wife’ and her search for home, while she ponders ideas of belonging. The story starts with Katzen’s first interactions at the remote Australian cattle farm called Tywyah; she’s driving to attend her eventual life partner - Jen- 40th birthday. We quickly learn that Katzen is an immigrant from South Africa who now teaches law at university. This story encapsulates how hard, yet rewarding and refreshing it can be to find the most in places that have the least. 


This memoir struck a chord with me because not only is it a hugely unique story but I found myself yearning for a certain outcome much like I would as I read novels. Throughout the memoir, Katzen continuously goes back to the novel and masters in creative writing that she has been working on for years, and that writing background really seeps through here. Her story truly felt like a story, rather than a retelling of events, and I think that is a true testament to her creative ability. The reason I yearned for a ‘resolution’ of sorts is that, throughout her life, Katzen was continuously searching. Searching for a place to call home and a place to belong. Now, whether it was the intention of her memoir or not, it reminded me of the importance to feel secure in one’s self and trust what you have around you in order to create a home and a sense of belonging. 


I can understand why Katzen grappled with the idea of belonging her whole life, from the fleeting moments we get about her childhood and younger years it seems as though there was, or is, a serious disconnect from that foundational idea of belonging and home we all often cling to. With this thought, I have to note that Katzen masterfully gives us just enough information to devise a context of her upbringing, but to me a whole element of the story was held back, especially details of her relationship with her mother. Now, I am not one to enjoy having my questions left unanswered but in this situation, I strongly commend Katzen for keeping some of her cards close to her chest. I think the idea of a memoir can often leave readers disappointed because as humans we are nosey as all hell. Memoirs aren’t tell-all books and the author owes the reader nothing more than the story they want to tell. So I enjoyed the reality of how it was clear that some elements of the WHOLE story were left unsaid, much like in the way you never completely reveal yourself to every person you meet. While yes, it was a memoir it was mostly a journey towards home, so she only employed parts of her life that were fundamental to divulging how she ultimately achieved that.


One of the most unwavering elements of Katzen’s life was her love story with Jen. It was utterly beautiful to read and I could feel the commitment, endurance and love seeping through the page. I think Katzen underplays her decision to move to the middle of butt fuck nowhere to be with the love of her life. Not many people would do that, let alone endure it, something we see fleetingly through friendships Katzen makes along the way. Through this move, relationship, and existence on the farm, I found a lot of disbelief from Katzen in herself and her own abilities. It is easy for me to say as a reader “oh don’t sweat it babe,” but we can all relate to the overwhelming feeling of needing to prove ourselves, in any situation we find ourselves in. So in times of self-doubt and questioning, I felt really sad for Katzen because it seemed to me that she focused a lot on her faults and inability rather than what she did achieve. Living without a normal toilet? Praise be to you sister, you are much more capable than most of us. 


Now, the other love of Katzen’s life was her writing. Her determination, commitment and discipline was utterly inspiring. I have never read a book that has sparked so much inspiration in me to just TRY. Like anything, there will be ups and downs, ebbs and flows in the progression of a piece of work, or your motivation to do something. Like her life on the farm, Katzen had an overwhelming need to prove herself. To her, you aren’t a writer unless you had your book published; which is completely fair enough. Success is subjective and measured differently for everyone but during my whole time reading this I just wanted to yell to her “YOU’RE DOING GREAT SWEETIE.” I truly look forward to fictional work by Katzen because the way she wrote her own story was mesmerizing so I can only imagine how she will write someone or something else’s.


Untethered is a beautiful memoir that unpacks ideas of belonging and “home” and how they can exist in any form we desire. Whether it is on a farm in the middle of nowhere with the love of your life, a plethora of animals, and your writing, Katzen reminds us we must take stock of what we hold close to our hearts and just run with that. 



Untethered

Hayley Katzen

364 pages. 2020.

Buy it here.