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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/.

Book Review :: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Emily St. John Mandel takes the reader through locations that range from the woods of British Columbia to colonies on the moon and through times that move from 1912 to 2401. Her story follows several characters: Edwin, the youngest child in a British family who will inherit almost nothing and who is exiled to Canada after he questions England’s role in India; Gaspery Roberts, a hotel detective who takes on a case with implications he could never imagine; and Olive Llewellyn, a novelist on a book tour for her work about a pandemic in a world where such tragedies happen more and more frequently. Mandel draws on her experience for the last character, as readers and critics have seen her Station Eleven as prescient in its portrayal of a much worse pandemic than our current one. She draws on questions and comments from her book tours for some of the more humorous parts of the novel. Overall, however, she’s interested in larger questions of time and reality, even exploring whether or not the characters’ world — and, thus, our own — is nothing more than a simulation. If so, though, she seems to say that doesn’t make it any less meaningful.


Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. Alfred A. Knopf, April 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. You can find out more about him and his work on Twitter at @kevinbrownwrite or at http://kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.