Cover Image: The Swimmers

The Swimmers

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Member Reviews

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for an honest opinion.

I don’t think I was smart enough for this one. The crack in the pool was obviously a metaphor for something, but for what, I’m not sure. I didn’t get it! That being said, I enjoyed all BUT the pool section and felt like that part honestly belonged in another book. Some really heartbreaking and moving moments. I really enjoyed The Buddha in the Attic so expected to love this one too, but sadly it just didn’t quite click with me.

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I flew through this short book. The first part of the book focuses on a group of swimmers and their reactions to a crack in the pool. The second part of the book, which follows one of the swimmers through her dementia is heart-wrenching. This book is beautifully-written and I'm still thinking about it, even as I move on to the next one on my list.

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The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka was at once a poetic piece of literature as well as a powerful metaphor about dementia. Otsuka has a definitive voice in that is recognizable in her work, much like a rhythmic cadence.

This book is broken into three distinct parts, starting with the collective voice of we, that describes the multiple swimmers at the community pool. This moves onto the reactions of the swimmers after a crack is noticed in the pool. Some notice it and keep swimming, some notice it and obsess over it and others never even look. Remember folks, a crack in the foundation of a pool can be the beginning of the end of it.

By part three, the story of Alice, the only character mentioned by name, becomes more intimate as her dementia is worsening. Through her daughter’s observations, the whole allegory of the pool and Alice comes together. Written with pure nuance and poignancy, this book will stay with you long after you read it.

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The Swimmers is a marvel. An odd, little novel that I knew nearly nothing about going in -- which is exactly how one should read this book. Delicious.

Thanks to the publisher for the e-galley!

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This was a very interesting short read. As someone who currently has a family member that is suffering with dementia, this book really hit close to home.

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This was a short, quick read, but it was in no way a superficial story. A group of swimmers gather at the local pool. They don't know much about each other, they interact very little, but they all share a love of the pool and swimming their laps. One day, a crack appears in the bottom of the pool and it leads to changes in all of their lives. Alice has been forgetting a lot lately, and her daughter has begun to worry about her. When she loses the ability to use the pool, she is shoved into a downward health spiral that will have lasting complications. This book was so good, so raw and emotional, and takes on a subject that so many of us will end up having to deal with or have already dealt with. I highly recommend this book.

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This book reads like a poem and is beautifully written. The first part talks about the community of swimmers and would speak to anyone who loves to swim. The second part explores the life and decline of Alice through her daughter's eyes. This beautiful and moving story will touch anyone who has experienced the affects of dementia in a loved one.

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Moving, beautiful and just so brilliant. What starts as a lovely story of a community, of the bond of strangers at an underground swimming pool, becomes a devastating portrayal of one swimmer Alice, and her progressive dementia. It’s a unique way to tell an all-too-familiar story of this terrible condition that slowly steals our loved ones from us.
The rhythmic writing is so clever, each part using repetition in such an effective way, the ‘we’ of the swimmers, what ‘she’ remembers, what ‘it’ (a mysterious crack in the pool) means… and the scathing satire of nursing home, telling ‘you’ everything to expect.
Definitely right book, right time, right reader. I was blown away by it. As a swimmer, I was captivated from the beginning, and as a daughter of mother with early onset, who no longer knows who she is, I could not relate more to Alice and her daughter’s story.
A Wow read…..

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I’m honestly not sure how I feel about The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka. On one hand I was compelled to keep reading until the end, but on the other, I wanted there to be more to the book. What starts out as a book about swimmers (who you really never get to know by name), becomes a book about an aging parent’s journey with dementia. The book is written oddly and you never know anyone’s name except for Alice. A few others are mentioned but not with any event by which to remember them, so it was a bit confusing at times as well. I mostly wanted more in the way of characters and their stories.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance copy.

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DNF, Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of this book. I loved the way it was written but also started to get bored without any thread of action.

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The Swimmers is a wonderful book by Julie Otsuka. I am somewhat biased as she is one of my favorite authors, able to convey so many ideas and feelings with so much elegance and economy of language. This is a story about habit, about community, about Alzheimer's and about life. Highly recommended.

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Once a decade we are treated to a perfect book by Julie Otsuka. I did not predict the turn this would take, and it was beautiful and heartbreaking. I have the urge to swim.

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This was my first Julie Otsuka book. I was drawn to it because I was a swimmer. When this book began I was immediately connected with it. How particular swimmers can be. I was fascinated by all the communication between the swimming pool members. When a crack formed at the bottom of the pool it really brought chaos. This book then began a much deeper story about a relationship between a mother and daughter and the heartache of dementia and Alzheimer's. This book was beautifully written. Very lyrical in its descriptions.

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The books begins with the swimmers and there reaction to a crack at the bottom of the pool. One of the swimmers, Alice, is slowly succumbing to dementia. Alice's daughter then picks up the story to tell of the final time in her mother's life. It's an emotional ride.

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I loved this book so much. Julie Otsuka has a magnificent way of portraying what is happening with only a few words. I was completely absorbed in the scenes at the swimming pool. I could feel the daughters grief as she confronted her mother's situation and the end of her mother's life. This was so amazingly written in such a small book. It speaks volumes.

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I've been trying this new thing where I don't read anything about a book before I start it, so that I come into it with no expectations, a fully blank slate. I took this approach with this book. I adored this book. Julie Otsuka is an artist of the ilk that her subject becomes fascinating not because it is in & of itself, but simply because of the way in which she expounds upon it. I've rarely read any book that has dealt with seemingly mundane, every-day details and transformed them into something so gloriously profound. The voice she gives to Alice, who is losing more & more of her memory & of herself every day, is heart wrenching in its simple pathos. This book reads like a collection of memoir essays, without one single narrative arc, but it worked. I'm looking forward to reading everything else Ms. Otsuka has put out into the world!

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This book is great and easily one of the best novels I’ve read in the last 5 years. Go into it knowing as little as possible.

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THE SWIMMERS by award-winning author Julie Otsuka (When the Emperor was Divine and The Buddha in the Attic) is one of the most beautiful books I have read in a long time. The writing is exquisite and it is difficult to pick out favorite quotes. The first part of the book is written as though the swimmers were collectively sharing the small moments of their time at the pool: "one of the best things about the pool is the brief respite it offers us from the noisy world above ...and slowly, slowly, the chatter in our minds begins to subside as stroke after stroke, length after length, we swim." There are lists and lists and lists describing rules, the participants, and the pool itself until one day a crack appears, then disappears, but ultimately leads to change. Alice, who is developing dementia, feels the loss: "Up there, she says, I'm just another little old lady. But down here, at the pool, I'm myself." Without the routine of swimming, her condition worsens and the narration and focus of the book shifts to Alice's estranged daughter and their relationship. THE SWIMMERS received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus ("The combination of social satire with an intimate portrait of loss and grief is stylistically ambitious and deeply moving."), Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. It will be on our shelves soon.

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The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka

Julie Otsuka is one of my favorite authors. Her Buddha in the Attic and When the Emperor Was Devine are two of the books I cherish and reread. (Read them both of you haven’t yet.) Her unique style always arrests the reader. In her newest novel, The Swimmers, as in her previous efforts, she begins in the first-person-plural with lists that focus the reader’s attention. In this case, the lists come from a Greek chorus of swimmers at an underground community pool.

“Up above there are wildfires, smog alerts, epic droughts, paper jams, teachers’ strikes, insurrections, revolutions, blisteringly hot days that never seem to let up (Massive “Heat Dome” Permanently Stalled over Entire West Coast), but down below, at the pool, it is always a comfortable eighty-­one degrees. The humidity is sixty-­five percent. The visibility is clear. The lanes are orderly and calm.”

Later, the novel switches to second person and we learn that Alice, one of the regulars, is in the early stages of dementia, yet she still swims and one of the pool’s unwritten rules is “Be nice to Alice.”

“You wake up one day and you can’t even remember your name (It’s Alice). But until that day comes you keep your eyes focused on that painted black line on the bottom of your lane and you do what you must: You swim on.”

Alice and her fellow swimmers, people of all walks of life, swim on every single day, doggedly devoted to their daily laps. Then a mysterious crack appears in the pool and the swimmers’ fears grow as newer cracks follow. Not knowing how or why the cracks are there, the swimmers’ anxiety rises. Just as the progression and cause of Alice’s forgetfulness are frightening in their unpredictability, so are the mirroring fissures in the pool.

Alice’s disease progresses and she moves to Belavista, a for-profit memory care facility. There the focus shifts to her memories including reflections on her internment as a Japanese-American during World War II and to her daughter’s lamentations and regrets over not being present for her parents. As in all her novels, Otsuka pierces the reader’s heart with short, staccato-like sentences: “Later, your mother says, ‘Didn’t everything used to have a name?’”

Summing it Up: The Swimmers is a heartbreaking and tender novel of loss and fear with a touch of biting satire. It’s also a master class in writing that shows how the right words used with precision go straight to the reader’s soul. The Swimmers embeds the reader inside the deteriorating mind of an aging woman and forces the reader to see the realities of her journey and the toll it takes on others. It’s written with dignity and restraint, but it’s still a difficult emotional read. Select it for your book club so you’ll have companions for the journey.

Like Otsuka’s other magnificent novels, this one isn’t long. At 176 pages, there isn’t a single unnecessary word to be found.

Rating: 5 Stars

Categories: Fiction, Five Stars, Gourmet, Tapas, Book Club

Publication Date: March 7, 2022

Author Website:

Read an Excerpt:

Interview with the Author: If you do nothing else, read or listen to this interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross:

What Others are Saying:

Kirkus Reviews:

Library Journal:

L.A. Times:

New York Times:

Publishers Weekly:

Labels: Book Club, Fiction, Five Stars, Gourmet, Tapas

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I loved this little book so, so much. The descriptions of the pool and the swimmers were just so vivid, I could almost smell the chlorinated air. And then the story took an unexpected turn, and I was just so moved by the writing.

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