Addictive, Lyrical yet Heartbreaking – The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka

The Swimmers

My Review:

The musicality of Julie Otsuka’s writing had me from page one and this was a one sitting read for me. The book is comprised of three parts filled with meaning, regret and poignancy. In part 1 of The Swimmers, the author takes us to an indoor pool where a crack is detected. All of the neighborhood swimmers have feelings about their pool and the solace swimming provides and in exceptional language we learn about about each of them.

Then, in part 2, Otsuka dives deep (no pun intended) when it comes to Alice, one of the swimmers who is losing her memory. What Alice goes through is beautifully written and although it reads like music to the ear, the substance is incredibly painful. Part 3 is from Alice’s daughter’s point of view and we feel her lost opportunity for better a relationship while witnessing Alice’s demise as she loses all that makes us human.

The Swimmers provided me with an unexpected commentary on dementia, showing how Alice lives to how she will die. It is an emotional story spotlighting a beloved shared ritual amongst strangers to one woman’s journey through memory loss… and how the loss of memory is equal to loss of life, slowly slipping away – similar to water escaping through a crack in a pool. I highly recommend this 175 page gem.

Thank you to for publishing my review!
Julie Otsuka

About the Author

Julie Otsuka was born and raised in California. After studying art as an undergraduate at Yale University she pursued a career as a painter for several years before later turning to writing. She received her MFA from Columbia University. Her first novel, When the Emperor Was Divine (Knopf, 2002), is about the incarceration of a Japanese-American family during World War II. It is a winner of the Asian American Literary Award and the American Library Association’s Alex Award, and was named a New York Times Notable Book and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year. The book is based on Otsuka’s own family history: her grandfather was arrested by the FBI as a suspected spy for Japan the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, and her mother, uncle and grandmother spent three years in a prison camp in Topaz, Utah. When the Emperor Was Divine has been assigned to all incoming freshmen at more than 60 colleges and universities and is a regular ‘Community Reads’ selection across the US.

Her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic  (Knopf, 2011), is about a group of young Japanese ‘picture brides’ who sailed to America in the early 1900s to become the wives of men they had never met and knew only by their photographs. It is a winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, France’s Prix Femina Étranger, the Albatros Literaturpreis, the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction, and was a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. A New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times bestseller, The Buddha in the Attic has been translated into 22 languages. It was selected as a New York Times Notable Book, a San Francisco Chronicle and Boston Globe Best Book the Year, and was named a Top Ten Book by Library Journal and Vogue.

Her third novel, The Swimmers  (Knopf, 2022), is about a group of obsessed recreational swimmers and what happens to them when a crack appears at the bottom of their local pool.

Otsuka is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her writing has appeared in Granta, Harper’s, Newsweek, 100 Years of The Best American Short Stories, The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story, The Best American Short Stories 2012, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012, and has been read aloud on PRI’s “Selected Shorts” and BBC Radio 4’s “Book at Bedtime.” She lives in New York City, where she writes every afternoon in her neighborhood café.

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