Cover Image: The Swimmers

The Swimmers

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Member Reviews

Being a lap swimmer, the opening chapter of the book made me wonder if the author swam at my pool because the characters seemed so real. Then the slim, yet powerfulnovel (though it feels more memoir  than novel) moves on with the daughter of Alice, the swimmer, telling the story in second person about her mother's dementia and move into a nursing home. The prose is absolutely beautiful.  The daughter is an accomplished author, a daughter who "confesses"  about her shortcomings with her mother, the trips they did not take together, the letters and phone calls that were never sent, the invitations to visit her when she lived far away.  But then she returns "home" to be visit her mother.  Her father lives in their childhood home, always remembering his wife, never removing her personal items, until the daughter returns to toss the unnecessary toothbrush, the lipstick, the Kotex.  

Even though the book is marketed as fiction, and it very well may be, but Otsuka's fiction are based primarily on factual events, and I suspect the same here (we read about the same grandfather taken away by the FBI during their internment camp years of an earlier novel), this is a deeply moving book about dementia, about loss, about remembering, and eventually not speaking, but simply being there, wherever that may be.
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This slight and lovely novel is almost unbearably moving as it looks at the effects of dementia on both a woman and her family. The author plays brilliantly with form and voice: the first two chapters are a whole bundle of voices and the remaining three focus in specifically on Alice from three different viewpoints.

In the first chapter we are introduced to the swimmers in an underground pool. Using modular sections with a Greek chorus-like narrator, we learn about them in relation both to the pool and “above ground.” The second chapter continues in this style and relates what happens when a crack of unknown origin appears at the bottom of the pool, ultimately leading to the closure of the pool.

There is an abrupt shift to Alice, a swimmer who has become increasingly confused and forgetful. Like the pool, cracks have appeared in Alice’s memory and the downward trajectory of her mental state follows that of the pool’s floor and walls. Using the perspectives of Alice, the corporate voice of the Belavista care home, and Alice’s daughter, the author is unsparing in tracking Alice’s final years.

My father had dementia for several years before he died and anyone who has seen a loved one suffer through this will find this novel very hard to read. The author shows both through the metaphorical pool and through Alice how hard the initial onset can be: is it really happening? will it fix itself? Is this as bad as it’s going to get? In some ways this is the hardest stage for the sufferer as they know what’s going on and can do nothing to stop it.

As we know, there is no cure for dementia and the novel follows its tragic trajectory. If you feel up to reading a wonderful novel on this topic, I highly recommend it but I quite understand if it’s more than you can bear.

Thanks to Knopf Doubleday and Netgalley for the digital review copy
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Otsuka's prose is gorgeous as always, but this book really finds its stride in the second half as it zooms its focus in on Alice and the deterioration of her memory. and it's impact on her family. Beautiful and haunting.
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I struggled in the beginning to engage with this book.  Otsuka narrated in the third person plural as she had in her first two books so it seemed kind of formulaic.  I swam a mile before work for years and never connected with any of the other swimmers, so I didn’t get it and I just about gave up, until I realized this was Alice’s book, her story, and then I couldn’t read fast enough.  I’m of an age where mothers are requiring memory care units and I have never read such a personal description of what one of those facilities is like, for the resident, for the family.  Deeply moving.
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What an interesting little book about swimming! I used to love to swim as a child and reading her novel reminded me of all the lovely and quirky things about it.
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I love this author. She has a very unusual writing style. In this one, which may be somewhat autobiographical, the main character is experiencing dementia. And the narrators are third parties, including the daughter of the main character. It's very short. And beautifully written. And I appreciate the fact that it's told in an unusual manner.
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5 Stars

I am grateful to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for sending me an advanced copy of this book for review.

Tears were shed during the reading of this book.

Julie Otsuka is proving to be a consistently powerful author. This story was amazing, form the setup to the structure. This story was told in a very unique combination of normal linear prose, poetry, and some more experimental styles. The story of the pool and it's parallels to life in general is beautifully realized and proves to be one of the more interesting ways to introduce characters that I've ever read. The following story is emotional and heartbreaking, and is told in such an artful way that the impact is even greater.

This is a story of a single life, and the history of many people at the same time. It speaks about love, loss, family, and belonging. It elaborates on the different relationships people have with each other and the different ways these feelings manifest. This is a slow and quiet story about memory and connection, and the love between a mother and daughter. It was all so beautiful, and all fit onto so few pages.

I recommend this to readers of historical fiction and cultural stories.
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I started reading this without even skimming through the book's description. I have read Julie Otsuka's novels before and I am a fan, so I trusted her. At first, I thought it was going to be about the swimming pool and its swimmers. I enjoyed that part quite a bit. Then the story took a turn to focus on Alice, one of the swimmers, and her daughter. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, and quite honestly, completely unexpected that it hurt.
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Like Julie Otsuka's previous books - her 2002 debut novel, When the Emperor was Divine, which dealt with Japanese American internment during World War II, and her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic (2011), about Japanese picture brides, The Swimmers is bound to be an instant classic. It's important to note, however, that this novel definitely differs from her previous efforts. It is a more personal and intimate story, which should be obvious even in the fact that the characters are named and have very specific histories. Still, this has the same unique storytelling flair that characterizes Otsuka's other memorable novels.
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This book is a tiny love letter to those lap swimmers in the local YMCA or public pool. As a lap swimmer myself, reading this book is like a chlorinated hug for those of us who love the daily ritual of diving in and following the pool lines back and forth. The Swimmers is poetic, engrossing, and just about perfect. My favorite read this fall.
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I actually really like this book about a mother and daughter relationship.  This book starts with a mother who consoles  herself with swimming.  When her displacement activity is taken from her, she focuses on her relationships.  I really enjoyed the story.
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