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03/06/2023 | Literary criticism

Blood beech, blood line, "blood book" by Kim de l'Horizon

by Sabrina Siebert

A story about family, identity, class boundaries, friendship, love, physicality, witchcraft, violence, and a tree: the blood beech. The autofictional novel "Blood Book" by Kim de l'Horizon is all that - and so much more. Eleven years of work went into "Blood Book" before it was published in 2022 and awarded both the German and Swiss Book Prizes in the same year. Readers are quickly swept along by the flow of poetic language, into a plot that is difficult to summarize.


"The child must soon decide. People ask. NA YOU. WHAT ARE YOU? BUB OR MEITSCHI? It looks at the other children. Most of them have already made up their minds. They stand in a row of two and look expectantly. The child wonders: How does this decision work? Is it a magical process? Do you have to tell the sea of language. That sits in your body. And she gives you a magic spell. You have to say it so often. Until the sentence grows into your flesh. Until the sentence blends. Incorporeal. Bleeds over."


In five parts, each distinguished by its own unique linguistic style, the non-binary character Kim tells of growing up, being an adult, her own body, and her place in the midst of her own family history - the search for herself. Interwoven with this search for the roots of the maternal side of the family, which is traced and broken down to the 14th century, is research into the cultural history of the blood beech, the tree that stands in the garden of this very family's childhood home.

The narrator Kim cannot free herself from the mother, the grandmother - follows the lives of the women of this family, who lived centuries before them, and who are marked by magic and witchcraft - in order to possibly find herself at the end of this search. Traumas are revealed that are passed down through a multitude of generations, inscribed in the bodies and souls of the characters, and each:r must find a way to deal with their own roots.


"What I want to say, Great Sea: there is a void, and I don't know if it is mine. Maybe this emptiness is an heirloom, maybe it is an empty space that is passed on, into which each one loses its own again. A hole where each generation weaves its own threads into the void. I don't mean this in a subtle psychological way, but in a very concrete way."


In the meandering, non-linear narrative flow, sometimes these life stories are retold, sometimes the narrator addresses the grandmother (Grossmeer, as she is called in reference to the Swiss dialect), who suffers from dementia, directly in letter form, and then one finds oneself again in very harsh, self-destructive to repulsive, descriptions of sexual encounters that are not for the faint of heart and actually require a trigger warning. Written in a poetic and captivating language style, Kim de l'Horizon lays out a sometimes brutal, mercilessly frank content in "Blood Book," a painful story of what a genderfluid person has endured.


"I don't know how else to formulate myself other than: I don't know a language for my body. I can't move in the sea language or in the peer language. I am standing in a foreign language. Maybe that's part of the reason for writing, for this fragmented, fractured writing."


This challenging novel finds its own way of telling the story; it is experimental, something never before read in this form, and one must want to engage with it. In its powerful use of language and imagery, this book triggers a whole range of emotions; in places it is astonishment, irritation, and being utterly lost in the midst of the plot all at once; for it is not always easy to follow the whole. It is a break with conventions, a rejection of linear storytelling and is characterized by a very conscious and skillful use of language -an alternation of High German, Swiss dialect and English. An innovative, poetic, queer and radical novel - that really hurts in some places.