A Brave Blue World

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 11.06.2021

One suspects that the printed form of this book is a beautiful object. This, however, will remain a suspicion, because, all this critic can do is to review a pdf-copy. This is befitting our times. Since the apparition of Covid-19, we have been living in an age of generalised suspicion and e-books. Overworked academics and lazy students (or is it the other way around: lazy academics and overworked students?) might rejoice in the medium, or at least in the search function of their pdf-reader, but bibliophiles who love to touch, feel and smell books are somehow short-changed. This being said, epidemiologists would argue that it is not a good idea to touch and inhale these days. And yet, things could be so much worse. The narrator of Elise Schmit’s Blue Like a Tangerine evokes a world in the middle of a crisis, not unlike the one we have been experiencing, where publishing houses are under threat and paper has become a rare commodity: “Since paper has become scarce, hardly any books are getting printed. The newspapers have only been available digitally for weeks. Some of us are collecting discarded paper in hopes of being able to sell it soon, when the situation becomes direr.” Thankfully, in our world, we are not quite there yet and this little book has been published and printed by Redfoxpress, an Irish publisher specialising in artists’ books and limited hand-printed edition. Schmit’s short story about a struggling author on a tight budget is illustrated by Antic-Ham, an artist born in South Korea, who works with a variety of techniques such as silkscreen, collage, illustrations, and photography. Together they have produced a delightful little book. The pseudo-naivety of the illustrations contrasts sharply with the dystopic world full of threats and doubts – the writer’s block not being the least of them – in which the narrator evolves. But to call a world of food rationing and closed borders dystopic is not quite right. This is the “new normal” after all, just that this “normal” is not “new” at all. Covid-19 is making homo occidentalis discover what the great majority of humankind has been experiencing for decades, namely fear, penury and ruthless border guards. Schmit is one of those authors who believe that a healthy dose of magic realism is needed to deal with the unbearable. She is right. As the narrator peels a tangerine, a most precious fruit in an age when fresh produce is rationed, they uncover a little blue bird who now becomes part of their live. Nurturing and feeding him – interestingly the bird is referred to as a “he” in the story – turns out to be quite a challenge, as he shows little interest in dried food and feeds only on tangerines while the narrator struggles on with their novel and life. Some might want to identify a reference to Paul Eluard’s famous blue orange and others to Charlie Parker’s Bluebird in the title, but this is Elise Schmit’s blue tangerine bird. Luxembourgish literati will be familiar with Schmit, who won the prestigious Servais award in 2019 for her collection of short stories Stürze aus unterschiedlichen Fallhöhen, and her fondness for characters who have to deal with disaster in their lives. Blue Like a Tangerine is no exception, even it is ultimately a text about writing and solitude, the latter being a curse and yet also every author’s deepest craving.

Elise Schmit, Blue Like a Tangerine, Redfoxpress, 2021, 24 pages, 24 Euros

Laurent Mignon
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