Book Review: Umbilical by Teika Marija Smits

Words: Andrew Tucker
Friday 24 November 2023
reading time: min, words

Since local author Teika Marija Smits' new book Umbilical landed on the LeftLion desk, we’ve found it difficult to keep our feet on the ground...


In Teika Marija Smits’ debut collection of short stories Umbilical, trees walk out of spaceships in the moonlight, umbilical cords are regrown and a girl mixes paint colours from beeswax and her own fingernails. Elsewhere, an A.I. works an admin job for a local chip shop and The Longevity Authority wants to unlock one family’s genetic secret. Marija Smits’ debut is a work of fierce imagination, sequenced like an amniotic lucid dream.

Across twenty one pieces, technology is admired and upbraided, motherhood is both honoured and subverted, and there is a deep sense of grounding in various world mythologies, which are often brought forwards into a world of contemporary futurism - dryads and he-nymphs rub shoulders with interstellar travellers and Nottingham’s ghosts.

Smits’ sense of invention is underwritten by a capable instinct for storytelling - she knows when to leave the reader satisfied and when to leave them tantalised. Her prose combines a heightened poetic register together with a conversational closeness - it’s easy to keep reading, and easy to be beguiled by worlds as near as High Pavement, as distant as a labyrinth on a space cruiser.

Although there is bleakness, violence and concern, Smits often stirs among these settings an optimism or a familial warmth, and so Umbilical has swiftly become one of this writer’s favourite books to have on hand this month - we might even say an essential read.

Umbilical by Teika Marija Smits is out now


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