Cover Image: The Swimmers

The Swimmers

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Member Reviews

Once I started this book, I couldn't put it down-it was mesmerizing. I am a swimmer myself, so I thought all the descriptions of the pool and the swimmers were spot on. Everything that happens to Alice is definitely sad, but is written in a way that almost makes you feel connected to her and her family. This book was very different than the type of books I usually read, and I am glad I was given the opportunity to read it.
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Otsuka has written three books, around a decade apart. She is one of those authors with such a distinctive writing style, that her books are easily recognized. Her last wasn't a favorite, I compared to to Green Eggs and Ham, not in subject matter but in stylistic endeavour. Nonthless, her books, intrigue me, she writes slim books all with a different subject. This one is as the cover shows, about swimming. 

The first part follows her collective we voice, showcasing a group of swimmers at a local pool. She describes why they swim, how they swim, what they get from swimming. This daily exercise means alot to these swimmers as apparently does the rules and sameness. That is until a crack appears a crack appears in one of the lanes. Their reactions and actions took after the crack appears, follows. None of these people are named except one swimmer named Alice. Alice, who is allowed to swim an extra life. So far, this first section follows her previous books.

But then, the second and we learn why Alice is named. What now follows becomes personal, and it is poignant, and heartbreaking. Mother, daughter, husband, Alice a woman who is mentally deteriorating. This part sounds like it might be a fictional memoir and I thought, though I may be wrong, that this is her mother/daughter story.
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I found this book to be exquisite and so cleverly constructed. The subject matter is heartbreaking and the author balances delicately between rage, confusion, grief and regret. What seems at first to be a short book about very little is ultimately a nuanced and gorgeous exploration of losing a loved one who has also lost herself.
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It's difficult to review a book as heartfelt and true as The Swimmers.  Julie Otsuka has written a masterpiece that will be with me forever,

The novel is about Alice, a woman with Pick's disease, a type of dementia.  The narrative follows the relationship between Alice and her daughter as Alice's disease progresses.  The daughter is a writer and the novel has some of the aspects of the best memoirs.

This short novel starts with a chapter about swimmers in an underground pool, probably a YMCA.  Each swimmer obeys the pool's unspoken rules and keeps to the same lane every day.  They are happy to be away from the hustle and bustle of 'the'outside'' because in the pool everything is quiet and peaceful, perfect for all the swimmers.  One day, however, a crack appears at the bottom of the pool and this is horribly upsetting to the swimmers.  What can it be and what caused it? As the book progresses, I found it a clear metaphor for the beginning of Alice's demise, the crack in her mind so to speak.

The next chapter, Diem Perdidi, is a short story, one I believe that Ms. Otsuka has previously published.  It is about the progression of her mother's dementia as her daughter looks on.  Diem Perdidi, translatesd something like 'the lost day', is beautifully rendered as is the profound sense of loss it conveys.

Ultimately, Alice is sent to reside in a long-term care facility that is regimented, cold, and like many medical facilities, caring more about the profit than the patient.

I loved the parts of the book that explored the daughter's relationship with Alice, especially her distance from her mother since leaving home for college.  Alice sounds like a powerhouse in her youth but it is easy to see how fractious a mother/daughter relationship might have been.

Ms. Otsuka writes like no other author.  She is unique in her style which I found mesmerizing and lyrical.  The book never slows down.  It rides, like the wind, on the beauty of the author's words.  Her style reminded me of music, with its repetitions and short rifs.  The composers Erik Satie and Philip Glass come to mind. This will be one of my top 10 books of 2022 and one of my favorite novels of all time.
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I'm a huge fan of Julile Otsuka's writing style. Her novels are short and to the point, yet always leave me with a lingering ache. They are emotional, heartbreaking, and real without any excessive emoting or flowery descriptive language. This one is a perfect example of her incredible talent.

The pool in town attracts a wide variety of people who swim on a regular schedule. Although few names are given, we get to know them by their swim style and their habits. When a crack appears in the pool, it portends a change that has an impact on everyone, especially Alice who is battling dementia.

This book is really in two parts -- the pool and Alice. While not a straight narrative plot (with an introduction, building tension, and climax), nor is there typical exposition and dialogue, the story is still very clear. I think this is the brilliance of Otsuka's writing. I'm sure some will be put off by the writing style, and it is different. Otsuka writes in short seemingly random sentences that (at first) do not even seem connected. Some will find it distracting, but I fell the style is what adds to the impact of the story. I found myself thinking about this book long after I finished it. This would be a perfect "book club" selection.
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It is hard to convey just how much I loved this book.  Through her gorgeous lyrical style author Otsuka takes the reader into the deterioration of a proud woman whose childhood was scarred by her internment on YS soil during WWII. Using the metaphor of the displacement of a group of devoted swimmers when their pool develops mysterious cracks, Otsuka gives us a searing portrayal of Alice’s deterioration from the beginning of the cracks in her mind to the end of her life.  Heartbreaking and so beautifully written.  Highly recommended.
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I was so excited to read another work by Julie Otsuka, who has this lyrical but powerful style of storytelling.
This short novel focuses on a group of swimmers who have bonded at the pool each morning. Their world is thrown into chaos when the pool develops a crack, and they are no longer able to swim. 
The story becomes heartbreaking as readers realize it is primarily told from the perspective of Alice who is slowly losing herself to dementia. 
I absolutely loved this story!
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This is one of the best books that I have read in some time.  I felt that the dynamic and parallels drawn from the writing were intriguing and really resonated strongly for me.  The lyricism of the written word just flowed so easily and relentlessly from subject to subject.  I was captivated by this book and definitely want to read more from this author.  Thanks for the ARC, NetGalley.  This was a stellar read.
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A beautifully written and succinct book about the life of a swimming pool segues into one of it's swimmer's  downward spiral into dementia
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A very short but extremely powerful, heartbreaking ,emotional read.The first part deals with swimmers who compulsively swim every day in an underground swimming pool. Having been a “ slow swimmer” myself for years in the past, every aspect of the rituals and the description of the various types of swimmers (the speed demons, the triathletes, the elderly there for their aching backs and knees and old age ailments) was spot on. Among them is Alice, an elderly Japanese-American woman in the early stages of dementia. Suddenly their lives and rituals are disrupted by the development of cracks and the subsequent closure of the pool. This, for me, serves as a metaphor for the remainder of the read, as Alice sleeps deeper and deeper into dementia and needs 24 hour nursing home care. I don’t know if Otsuka’s family experienced this personally , but I can tell you that she captures everything perfectly, from her depiction of the care home and the financial burden on the family, Alice’s stages of decline,the emotions of her children,in particular her daughter, and most poignantly, that of her husband.
Having experienced this personally, there were moments that were extremely painful to read,and multiple times hit so hard that I wanted to stop reading. A short, but very very powerful read.
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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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