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The Swimmers

A novel

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Hardcover
$23.00 US
| $30.00 CAN
On sale Feb 22, 2022 | 192 Pages | 978-0-593-32133-1
| Grades 9-12 + AP/IB
NATIONAL BESTSELLER • CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE WINNER From the award-winning author of The Buddha in the Attic and When the Emperor Was Divine comes a novel that "starts as a catalogue of spoken and unspoken rules for swimmers at an aquatic center but unfolds into a powerful story of a mother’s dementia and her daughter’s love" (The Washington Post).

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.
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 our own best enforcers): no running, no shouting, no children allowed. Circle swimming only (direction counterclockwise, always keeping to the right of the painted black line). All Band-­Aids must be removed. No one who has not taken the compulsory two-­minute shower (hot water, soap) in the locker room may enter the pool. No one who has an unexplained rash or open wound may enter the pool (the menstruating among us, however, are excepted). No one who is not a member of the pool may enter the pool. Guests are permitted (no more than one per member at a time), but for a nominal daily fee. Bikinis are permitted but not encouraged. Bathing caps are required. Cell phones are forbidden. Proper pool etiquette must be observed at all times. If you cannot keep up the pace you must stop at the end of your lane to let the swimmer behind you pass. If you want to pass someone from behind you must tap them once on the foot to warn them. If you accidentally bump into another swimmer you must check to make sure that they are all right. Be nice to Alice. Obey the lifeguard at all times. Turn your head at regular intervals and remember, of course, to breathe.

IN OUR "REAL LIVES” up above, we are overeaters, underachievers, dog walkers, cross-­dressers, compulsive knitters (Just one more row), secret hoarders, minor poets, trailing spouses, twins, vegans, “Mom,” a second-­rate fashion designer, an undocumented immigrant, a nun, a Dane, a cop, an actor who just plays a cop on TV (“Officer Mahoney”), a winner of the green card lottery, a two-­time nominee for Outstanding Professor of the Year, a nationally ranked go player, three guys named George (George the podi­atrist, George the nephew of the disgraced financier, George the former welterweight Golden Gloves boxer), two Roses (Rose, and the Other Rose), one Ida, one Alice, one self-­described nobody (Don’t mind me), one former member of the SDS, two convicted felons, addicted, enabled, embattled, embittered, out of print, out of luck (I think I just seroconverted), in the twilight of lackluster real estate careers, in the middle of long and protracted divorces (It’s year seven), infertile, in our prime, in a rut, in a rush, in remission, in the third week of chemo, in deep and unrelenting emotional despair (You never get used to it), but down below, at the pool, we are only one of three things: fast-­lane people, medium-­lane people or the slow.

THE FAST LANE PEOPLE are the alpha people of the pool. They are high-­strung and aggressive and supremely confident in their stroke. They look excellent in their swimsuits. Anatomically, they tend to be mesomorphs who carry an extra pound or two of fat for enhanced flotation. They have broad shoulders and long torsos and are equally divided between women and men. Whenever they kick, the water churns and boils. It is best to stay out of their way. They are natural-­born athletes blessed with both rhythm and speed and have an uncanny feel for the water that the rest of us lack.

THE MEDIUM-LANE PEOPLE are visibly more relaxed than their fast-­lane brethren. They come in all sizes and shapes and have long ago given up any dreams they may have once harbored of swimming in a faster and better lane. No matter how hard they try, it’s not going to happen, and they know it. Every once in a while, however, one of them will succumb to a bout of furious kicking, a sudden and involuntary windmilling of the arms and legs as though they thought, for a moment, that they could somehow defy their fate. But the moment never lasts for long. Legs soon tire out, strokes shorten, elbows droop, lungs begin to ache, and after a length or two they return to their normal everyday pace. That’s just the way it is, they say to themselves. And then amiably, affably—­Just pulling your leg, guys!—­they swim on.

THE SLOW-LANE PEOPLE tend to be older men who have recently retired, women over the age of forty-­nine, water walkers, aqua joggers, visiting economists from landlocked emerging third-­world countries where, we have heard, they are only just now learning how to swim (It’s the same with their driving), and the occasional patient in rehab. Be kind to them. Make no assumptions. There are many reasons they might be here: arthritis, sciatica, insomnia, a brand-­new titanium hip, aching feet worn out from a lifetime of pounding on dry land. “My mother told me never to wear high heels!” The pool is their sanctuary, their refuge, the one place on earth they can go to escape from their pain, for it is only down below, in the waters, that their symptoms begin to abate. The moment I see that painted black line I feel fine.
  • WINNER | 2023
    Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE WINNER A Best Book of the Year: VOGUE and KIRKUS 

“Otsuka’s prose is powerfully subdued: She builds lists and litanies that appear unassuming, even quotidian, until the paragraph comes to an end, and you find yourself stunned by what she has managed, your throat tight with the beautiful detail . . . This is a novel of not just accumulation, but repetition, scenes looping in the way that the mind does, or the way swimmers swim laps. Compounded, these accretions build to an incredible feeling of loss, and too-late-ness . . . In a time of monotony and chaos, when death is as concrete as it is unimaginable, and when cracks can and do appear in the pool for no discernible reason, The Swimmers is an exquisite companion.” –Rachel Khong, The New York Times Book Review

"Once per decade we are graced with a new book by Otsuka, the award-winning author of 2012’s The Buddha in the Attic and 2003’s When The Emperor Was Divine. This year’s novel starts as a catalogue of spoken and unspoken rules for swimmers at an aquatic center but unfolds into a powerful story of a mother’s dementia and her daughter’s love. If Otsuka doesn’t write another novel for several years, it will be okay. This is one to be savored and reread." –Becky Meloan, The Washington Post

The Swimmers is a slim brilliant novel about the value and beauty of mundane routines that shape our days and identities; or, maybe it's a novel about the cracks that, inevitably, will one day appear to undermine our own bodies and minds; and — who knows? — it could also be read as a grand parable about the crack in the world wrought by this pandemic . . . Otsuka's signature spare style as a writer unexpectedly suits her capacious vision . . . The Swimmers has the verve and playfulness of spoken word poetry.” –Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air/NPR

“Otsuka beautifully renders the particularities of a life fully using every word, including the pronouns. She has a way of presenting seemingly objective details, but the emotions seep through the minutiae so that we know and feel much about Alice and those who care for her. With virtuosity, Otsuka hands us each crystallized inch of this tale that reflects a life — the pages memorialize what can't be forgotten . . . The Swimmers is [an] artfully refined story, even when it delves into the most painful parts of life.” –Abby Manzella, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“[The Swimmers] is a masterclass in the use of non-traditional points-of-view. This slim, gorgeous book is divided into five chapters . . . and provides the reader with fresh insight into both the story being told and the craft of writing it.” —Laura Spence-Ash, Ploughshares

“[The Swimmers] offers satirical comment on contemporary life with nimble precision . . . Julie Otsuka finds a deft humor in each observation.” —Benedict Nguyễn, Los Angeles Review of Books

“There are books that seem as if they were written just for me, and Julie Otsuka’s The Swimmers is one of them . . . In Otsuka’s signature style, The Swimmers is a grand pointillist narrative driven by the unrelenting accretion of details like dots of color filling up the canvas . . . Otsuka [is] taking the gloves off in a way she hasn’t since the ending of When the Emperor Was Divine.” –Alice Stephens, Washington Independent Review of Books

“A quick and tender story of a group of swimmers who cope with the disruption of their routines in various ways . . . 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.”Publishers Weekly [starred review]

“Distinguished best-selling novelist Otsuka’s (Buddha in the Attic) latest is an introspective work that examines life’s journeys from a multitude of perspectives . . . Otsuka’s spare, dreamlike writing offers readers a deeply touching exploration of the impact on Alice’s Japanese American family (particularly her daughter) of caring for a loved one with dementia. Otsuka is noteworthy for her skilled storytelling and her ability to immerse readers in her characters’ emotional journeys. Essential reading for those already familiar with Otsuka’s work; those who haven’t read her are likely to be duly impressed." –Shirley Quan, Library Journal [starred review]

“Julie Otsuka’s first novel in 10 years is a quiet and startling masterpiece about memory, aging and the indelible experiences that define a life . . . The Swimmers seems to continually reinvent itself as each section reframes everything that came before it. Reading something so inventive and playful is a bit like being inside an architectural blueprint as it’s being drawn, or watching an acorn grow into a massive oak in only a few minutes . . . With nuance, grace and deep tenderness, Otsuka ponders the questions that define our lives: Who are we without our memories? What does it mean to truly see someone else, to see ourselves? What is knowable about the world, and what do we do with the mysteries no one can solve? Funny, moving and composed of sentences that read like small poems, The Swimmers is a remarkable novel from a writer with an unparalleled talent for capturing the stuff of the world, whether mundane, harrowing or bizarre.” –Laura Sackton, BookPage [starred review]

“Award-winning, best-selling Otsuka is averaging one book per decade, making each exquisite title exponentially more precious. Here she creates a stupendous collage of small moments that results in an extraordinary examination of the fragility of quotidian human relationships . . . Once more, Otsuka creates an elegiac, devastating masterpiece.” –Booklist [starred review]

“Having concentrated on one family in her first novel, then eschewed individual protagonists for a collective ‘we’ in her second, Otsuka now blends the two approaches, shifting from an almost impersonal, wide-lens view of society to an increasingly narrow focus on a specific mother-daughter relationship . . . The combination of social satire with an intimate portrait of loss and grief is stylistically ambitious and deeply moving.” Kirkus Reviews [starred review]
© © Jean-Luc Bertini
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 Alex Award. Her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic, was a finalist for the National Book Award 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 bestseller and the winner of the prestigious Prix Femina étranger 2012, and the Albatros Literaturpreis 2013. She lives in New York City. View titles by Julie Otsuka

About

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE WINNER From the award-winning author of The Buddha in the Attic and When the Emperor Was Divine comes a novel that "starts as a catalogue of spoken and unspoken rules for swimmers at an aquatic center but unfolds into a powerful story of a mother’s dementia and her daughter’s love" (The Washington Post).

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.

Excerpt

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 our own best enforcers): no running, no shouting, no children allowed. Circle swimming only (direction counterclockwise, always keeping to the right of the painted black line). All Band-­Aids must be removed. No one who has not taken the compulsory two-­minute shower (hot water, soap) in the locker room may enter the pool. No one who has an unexplained rash or open wound may enter the pool (the menstruating among us, however, are excepted). No one who is not a member of the pool may enter the pool. Guests are permitted (no more than one per member at a time), but for a nominal daily fee. Bikinis are permitted but not encouraged. Bathing caps are required. Cell phones are forbidden. Proper pool etiquette must be observed at all times. If you cannot keep up the pace you must stop at the end of your lane to let the swimmer behind you pass. If you want to pass someone from behind you must tap them once on the foot to warn them. If you accidentally bump into another swimmer you must check to make sure that they are all right. Be nice to Alice. Obey the lifeguard at all times. Turn your head at regular intervals and remember, of course, to breathe.

IN OUR "REAL LIVES” up above, we are overeaters, underachievers, dog walkers, cross-­dressers, compulsive knitters (Just one more row), secret hoarders, minor poets, trailing spouses, twins, vegans, “Mom,” a second-­rate fashion designer, an undocumented immigrant, a nun, a Dane, a cop, an actor who just plays a cop on TV (“Officer Mahoney”), a winner of the green card lottery, a two-­time nominee for Outstanding Professor of the Year, a nationally ranked go player, three guys named George (George the podi­atrist, George the nephew of the disgraced financier, George the former welterweight Golden Gloves boxer), two Roses (Rose, and the Other Rose), one Ida, one Alice, one self-­described nobody (Don’t mind me), one former member of the SDS, two convicted felons, addicted, enabled, embattled, embittered, out of print, out of luck (I think I just seroconverted), in the twilight of lackluster real estate careers, in the middle of long and protracted divorces (It’s year seven), infertile, in our prime, in a rut, in a rush, in remission, in the third week of chemo, in deep and unrelenting emotional despair (You never get used to it), but down below, at the pool, we are only one of three things: fast-­lane people, medium-­lane people or the slow.

THE FAST LANE PEOPLE are the alpha people of the pool. They are high-­strung and aggressive and supremely confident in their stroke. They look excellent in their swimsuits. Anatomically, they tend to be mesomorphs who carry an extra pound or two of fat for enhanced flotation. They have broad shoulders and long torsos and are equally divided between women and men. Whenever they kick, the water churns and boils. It is best to stay out of their way. They are natural-­born athletes blessed with both rhythm and speed and have an uncanny feel for the water that the rest of us lack.

THE MEDIUM-LANE PEOPLE are visibly more relaxed than their fast-­lane brethren. They come in all sizes and shapes and have long ago given up any dreams they may have once harbored of swimming in a faster and better lane. No matter how hard they try, it’s not going to happen, and they know it. Every once in a while, however, one of them will succumb to a bout of furious kicking, a sudden and involuntary windmilling of the arms and legs as though they thought, for a moment, that they could somehow defy their fate. But the moment never lasts for long. Legs soon tire out, strokes shorten, elbows droop, lungs begin to ache, and after a length or two they return to their normal everyday pace. That’s just the way it is, they say to themselves. And then amiably, affably—­Just pulling your leg, guys!—­they swim on.

THE SLOW-LANE PEOPLE tend to be older men who have recently retired, women over the age of forty-­nine, water walkers, aqua joggers, visiting economists from landlocked emerging third-­world countries where, we have heard, they are only just now learning how to swim (It’s the same with their driving), and the occasional patient in rehab. Be kind to them. Make no assumptions. There are many reasons they might be here: arthritis, sciatica, insomnia, a brand-­new titanium hip, aching feet worn out from a lifetime of pounding on dry land. “My mother told me never to wear high heels!” The pool is their sanctuary, their refuge, the one place on earth they can go to escape from their pain, for it is only down below, in the waters, that their symptoms begin to abate. The moment I see that painted black line I feel fine.

Awards

  • WINNER | 2023
    Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction

Reviews

CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE WINNER A Best Book of the Year: VOGUE and KIRKUS 

“Otsuka’s prose is powerfully subdued: She builds lists and litanies that appear unassuming, even quotidian, until the paragraph comes to an end, and you find yourself stunned by what she has managed, your throat tight with the beautiful detail . . . This is a novel of not just accumulation, but repetition, scenes looping in the way that the mind does, or the way swimmers swim laps. Compounded, these accretions build to an incredible feeling of loss, and too-late-ness . . . In a time of monotony and chaos, when death is as concrete as it is unimaginable, and when cracks can and do appear in the pool for no discernible reason, The Swimmers is an exquisite companion.” –Rachel Khong, The New York Times Book Review

"Once per decade we are graced with a new book by Otsuka, the award-winning author of 2012’s The Buddha in the Attic and 2003’s When The Emperor Was Divine. This year’s novel starts as a catalogue of spoken and unspoken rules for swimmers at an aquatic center but unfolds into a powerful story of a mother’s dementia and her daughter’s love. If Otsuka doesn’t write another novel for several years, it will be okay. This is one to be savored and reread." –Becky Meloan, The Washington Post

The Swimmers is a slim brilliant novel about the value and beauty of mundane routines that shape our days and identities; or, maybe it's a novel about the cracks that, inevitably, will one day appear to undermine our own bodies and minds; and — who knows? — it could also be read as a grand parable about the crack in the world wrought by this pandemic . . . Otsuka's signature spare style as a writer unexpectedly suits her capacious vision . . . The Swimmers has the verve and playfulness of spoken word poetry.” –Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air/NPR

“Otsuka beautifully renders the particularities of a life fully using every word, including the pronouns. She has a way of presenting seemingly objective details, but the emotions seep through the minutiae so that we know and feel much about Alice and those who care for her. With virtuosity, Otsuka hands us each crystallized inch of this tale that reflects a life — the pages memorialize what can't be forgotten . . . The Swimmers is [an] artfully refined story, even when it delves into the most painful parts of life.” –Abby Manzella, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“[The Swimmers] is a masterclass in the use of non-traditional points-of-view. This slim, gorgeous book is divided into five chapters . . . and provides the reader with fresh insight into both the story being told and the craft of writing it.” —Laura Spence-Ash, Ploughshares

“[The Swimmers] offers satirical comment on contemporary life with nimble precision . . . Julie Otsuka finds a deft humor in each observation.” —Benedict Nguyễn, Los Angeles Review of Books

“There are books that seem as if they were written just for me, and Julie Otsuka’s The Swimmers is one of them . . . In Otsuka’s signature style, The Swimmers is a grand pointillist narrative driven by the unrelenting accretion of details like dots of color filling up the canvas . . . Otsuka [is] taking the gloves off in a way she hasn’t since the ending of When the Emperor Was Divine.” –Alice Stephens, Washington Independent Review of Books

“A quick and tender story of a group of swimmers who cope with the disruption of their routines in various ways . . . 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.”Publishers Weekly [starred review]

“Distinguished best-selling novelist Otsuka’s (Buddha in the Attic) latest is an introspective work that examines life’s journeys from a multitude of perspectives . . . Otsuka’s spare, dreamlike writing offers readers a deeply touching exploration of the impact on Alice’s Japanese American family (particularly her daughter) of caring for a loved one with dementia. Otsuka is noteworthy for her skilled storytelling and her ability to immerse readers in her characters’ emotional journeys. Essential reading for those already familiar with Otsuka’s work; those who haven’t read her are likely to be duly impressed." –Shirley Quan, Library Journal [starred review]

“Julie Otsuka’s first novel in 10 years is a quiet and startling masterpiece about memory, aging and the indelible experiences that define a life . . . The Swimmers seems to continually reinvent itself as each section reframes everything that came before it. Reading something so inventive and playful is a bit like being inside an architectural blueprint as it’s being drawn, or watching an acorn grow into a massive oak in only a few minutes . . . With nuance, grace and deep tenderness, Otsuka ponders the questions that define our lives: Who are we without our memories? What does it mean to truly see someone else, to see ourselves? What is knowable about the world, and what do we do with the mysteries no one can solve? Funny, moving and composed of sentences that read like small poems, The Swimmers is a remarkable novel from a writer with an unparalleled talent for capturing the stuff of the world, whether mundane, harrowing or bizarre.” –Laura Sackton, BookPage [starred review]

“Award-winning, best-selling Otsuka is averaging one book per decade, making each exquisite title exponentially more precious. Here she creates a stupendous collage of small moments that results in an extraordinary examination of the fragility of quotidian human relationships . . . Once more, Otsuka creates an elegiac, devastating masterpiece.” –Booklist [starred review]

“Having concentrated on one family in her first novel, then eschewed individual protagonists for a collective ‘we’ in her second, Otsuka now blends the two approaches, shifting from an almost impersonal, wide-lens view of society to an increasingly narrow focus on a specific mother-daughter relationship . . . The combination of social satire with an intimate portrait of loss and grief is stylistically ambitious and deeply moving.” Kirkus Reviews [starred review]

Author

© © Jean-Luc Bertini
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 Alex Award. Her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic, was a finalist for the National Book Award 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 bestseller and the winner of the prestigious Prix Femina étranger 2012, and the Albatros Literaturpreis 2013. She lives in New York City. View titles by Julie Otsuka