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The Swimmers
Cover of The Swimmers
The Swimmers
A novel
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NATIONAL BEST SELLER • From the best-selling, award-winning author of The Buddha in the Attic and When the Emperor Was Divine comes a novel about what happens to a group of obsessed recreational swimmers when a crack appears at the bottom of their local pool. This searing, intimate story of mothers and daughters—and the sorrows of implacable loss—is the most commanding and unforgettable work yet from a modern master.
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.
NATIONAL BEST SELLER • From the best-selling, award-winning author of The Buddha in the Attic and When the Emperor Was Divine comes a novel about what happens to a group of obsessed recreational swimmers when a crack appears at the bottom of their local pool. This searing, intimate story of mothers and daughters—and the sorrows of implacable loss—is the most commanding and unforgettable work yet from a modern master.
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.
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Excerpts-
  • From the cover The Underground Pool

    The pool is located deep underground, in a large cavernous chamber many feet beneath the streets of our town. Some of us come here because we are injured, and need to heal. We suffer from bad backs, fallen arches, shattered dreams, broken hearts, anxiety, melancholia, anhedonia, the usual aboveground afflictions. Others of us are employed at the college nearby and prefer to take our lunch breaks down below, in the waters, far away from the harsh glares of our colleagues and screens. Some of us come here to escape, if only for an hour, our disappointing marriages on land. Many of us live in the neighborhood and simply love to swim. One of us—­Alice, a retired lab technician now in the early stages of dementia—­comes here because she always has. And even though she may not remember the combination to her locker or where she put her towel, the moment she slips into the water she knows what to do. Her stroke is long and fluid, her kick is strong, her mind clear. “Up there,” she says, “I’m just another little old lady. But down here, at the pool, I’m myself.”

    MOST DAYS AT THE POOL, we are able to leave our troubles on land behind. Failed painters become elegant breaststrokers. Untenured professors slice, shark-­like, through the water, with breathtaking speed. The newly divorced HR Manager grabs a faded red Styrofoam board and kicks with impunity. The downsized adman floats, otter-­like, on his back, as he stares up at the clouds on the painted pale blue ceiling, thinking, for the first time all day long, of nothing. Let it go. Worriers stop worrying. Bereaved widows cease to grieve. Out-­of-­work actors unable to get traction above ground glide effortlessly down the fast lane, in their element, at last. I’ve arrived! And for a brief interlude we are at home in the world. Bad moods lift, tics disappear, memories reawaken, migraines dissolve, and slowly, slowly, the chatter in our minds begins to subside as stroke after stroke, length after length, we swim. And when we are finished with our laps we hoist ourselves up out of the pool, dripping and refreshed, our equilibrium restored, ready to face another day on land.

    UP ABOVE THERE ARE wildfires, smog alerts, epic droughts, paper jams, teachers’ strikes, insurrections, revolutions, blisteringly hot days that never seem to let up (Massive “Heat Dome” Permanently Stalled over Entire West Coast), but down below, at the pool, it is always a comfortable eighty-­one degrees. The humidity is sixty-­five percent. The visibility is clear. The lanes are orderly and calm. The hours, though limited, are adequate for our needs. Some of us arrive shortly upon waking, fresh towels draped over our shoulders and rubber goggles in hand, ready for our eight a.m. swim. Others of us come down in the late afternoon, after work, when it is still sunny and bright, and when we reemerge it is night. The traffic has thinned. The backhoes have quieted. The birds have all gone away. And we are grateful to have avoided, once more, the falling of dusk. It’s the one time I can’t bear being alone. Some of us come to the pool religiously, five times a week, and begin to feel guilty if we miss even a day. Some of us come every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon. One of us comes a half hour before closing and by the time she changes into her suit and gets into the water it’s time to get out. Another of us is dying of Parkinson’s disease and just comes when he can. If I’m here then you know I’m having a good day.

    THE RULES AT THE POOL, though unspoken, are adhered to by all (we are...
About the Author-
  • JULIE OTSUKA was born and raised in California. She is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and her first novel, When the Emperor Was Divine won the 2003 Asian American Literary Award and the 2003 American Library Association's Alex Award. Her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2011 and won the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the 2011 Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction. The Buddha in the Attic was an international best seller and the winner of the prestigious Prix Femina Étranger in 2012, and the Albatros Literaturpreis in 2013. She lives in New York City.
     
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 20, 2021
    Otsuka (The Buddha in the Attic) delivers a quick and tender story of a group of swimmers who cope with the disruption of their routines in various ways. The regulars at a pool range in age, ability, and swimming habits, and are connected by an incessant need to swim. When a crack shows up in the deep end of lane four, the swimmers all grows nervous about the pool’s future. While the “nonswimmers” in their lives (also known as “crack deniers”) dismiss the swimmers’ concerns, the swimmers collectively discover how the crack “quietly lodges itself, unbeknownst to you, in the recesses of your mind”—except for cheerful Alice, who has swum in the pool for 35 years and now has dementia. Some members stop going to the pool out of fear, while others try to get close to the crack. Just before the pool is closed, Alice determines to get in “Just one more lap.” Otsuka cleverly uses various points of view: the swimmers’ first-person-plural narration effectively draws the reader into their world, while the second person keenly conveys the experiences of Alice’s daughter, who tries to recoup lost time with her mother after Alice loses hold of her memories and moves into a memory care facility. It’s a brilliant and disarming dive into the characters’ inner worlds.

  • AudioFile Magazine This production sounds more like a memoir than a novel. At its opening we hear the gentle, almost soporific, voice of narrator Traci Kato-Kiriyama introducing a diverse group of swimmers who are doing laps in an underground swimming pool, oblivious to the demands of the world above. Sadly, when cracks appear in the floor, the pool is closed. Alice, one of the older swimmers, is in the early stages of dementia. She, like the pool, is cracking up. The second part of the story follows Alice into a care facility. Kato-Kiriyama recounts Alice's decline and her interactions with her daughter in a perceptive and delicate manner. With compassion, she tells the depressing but all too believable story of how soul-crushing dementia can be. D.L.G. � AudioFile 2022, Portland, Maine
  • Library Journal

    June 1, 2022

    The swimmers are a dedicated crowd who love their basement pool to the point of alienating their loved ones. They have built an important social system as they fly through their laps. When a series of mysterious cracks appear, concerns for safety lead to the pool closing. The dedicated natators are kicked out and left treading in no water. The story flips to focus on Alice, who is showing signs of disintegrating memory. She finds herself pulled into her past, including a childhood in a Japanese concentration camp. She moves to a memory care center and flutters in and out of the present, while her daughter is pulled into the story. The key relationship between mother and daughter reveals the decline of Alice through the eyes of her daughter, who is herself dealing with the shortcomings of their connection. Traci Kato-Kiriyama is utterly convincing in each of the phases of this book as she depicts a full range of characters. VERDICT Otsuka's (The Buddha in the Attic) remarkable work should have a place in every library.--Christa Van Herreweghe

    Copyright 2022 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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