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Book Review :: The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Julie Otsuka uses shifting points of view to make her books both universal and specific. In her novel, The Swimmers, she begins with the first person plural point of view to give voice to the titular swimmers, exploring the diversity of their reactions when the pool develops a crack, a metaphor for the loss to come in the second half of the novel. Otsuka sets up the idea of memory, collective and individual, she will explore through Alice, one of the swimmers. The reader learns little about Alice in the second half, though Otsuka shifts to the second person point of view to put the reader in the position of Alice’s daughter (who sounds quite similar to Otsuka, from the few hints the reader receives, including her mother’s interment in camps during World War II, one of the memories her mother holds onto throughout much of her deterioration). The reader sees Alice from a distance as one of the swimmers and up close as a mother who is becoming a different person than the daughter remembers. The reader empathizes with the mother and daughter, but knows, as the doctors make clear, there is nothing to do, but to endure the inevitable loss and rebuild a life after that loss.

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka. Knopf, February 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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