Aug 122022

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka

The swimmers are unknown to one another except through their private routines (slow lane, medium lane, fast lane) and the solace each takes in their morning or afternoon laps. But when a crack appears at the bottom of the pool, they are cast out into an unforgiving world without comfort or relief.

One of these swimmers is Alice, who is slowly losing her memory. For Alice, the pool was a final stand against the darkness of her encroaching dementia. Without the fellowship of other swimmers and the routine of her daily laps she is plunged into dislocation and chaos, swept into memories of her childhood and the Japanese American incarceration camp in which she spent the war. Alice’s estranged daughter, reentering her mother’s life too late, witnesses her stark and devastating decline.

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do was to spend summer days at the pool with my friends. I continued swimming as an adult but haven’t for many years and I miss it. When I saw this book I knew I wanted to read it.

The book starts off with us learning about the pool and the people who swim there, most of them on a daily basis. We learn their specific routines, how they are alike and different, what motivates them to swim, and about the pool itself. I really enjoyed getting to know the swimmers.

One day someone notices a tiny crack in the bottom of the pool, then more swimmers start to notice it and soon they are all keeping an eye on it to see if it looks like it might cause problems. There were some interesting thoughts about what caused the crack, what it means, and what would happen if it started getting bigger. Then they start worrying for their safety if it keep growing, and if they would have to close the pool so it could be fixed. It was even seen as bad luck. When the crack does start growing, the management informs the swimmers that the pool will be closing for good. Not just long enough to be repaired, but for good! The swimmers are not happy at all.

Then the book turns solemn as it’s focus turns to Alice (who had dementia) and her daughter. Everything about Alice’s story was interesting and I enjoyed it, but would have liked knowing what happened to the other swimmers also.

This is a short book but it didn’t really feel short to me because the story was so interesting. It kept me wanting to know what was going to happen next.

I really enjoyed this so I checked out the authors other books and may add When The Emperor Was Divine, which also looks interesting.

 Posted by at 11:43 AM

  16 Responses to “The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka”

  1. I loved this story – everything about it – quite brilliant. I know someone who is an obsessed swimmer and has routines he doesn’t like messed with. These swimmers rang true to what I know about this individual. I’ve read one other book by this author but want to read more.

  2. I’ve read a book by this author, but not this one. Sounds very good.

  3. That was a good review, Vicki. I would read this book.

  4. I’m glad you liked this one — I have it on my list to read. It sounds good to me. Swimming laps is a nice exercise to get into … I used to do it as well but haven’t lately. It’s sad that the swimmers in the story have to stop and about Alice….

    • I loved swimming at the public pool when I was growing up and then my parents had a pool later. I miss swimming. My son and daughter in law who live next door have a pool but it’s so is so bright, hot and humid here in the summer that I would probably burn quickly and badly so I don’t go in it.

      I agree with you about those parts of the book were sad 🙁

  5. I’ve heard good things about this book and since I swim at my local Y and have gotten to “know” some of the other swimmers, this one appeals to me.

  6. This sounds really interesting and I like that the pool is the unifying factor for the characters. That is too bad that the rest of the characters aren’t explored a bit more though.

    • That’s what I liked about it! It was so good but like you said a would have liked a few chapters on each of the main characters. Still, it was very good.

  7. I’d be anxious to find out about the other swimmers too,

  8. This is a new author to me. I love to swim also. And short is good, since I’ve kind of lost my reading mojo. Thanks.

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