'The Swimmers' by Julie Otsuka '94 Out Now

BY Rebecca Pinwei Tseng, April 12, 2022

Knopf Doubleday recently published The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka '94. The book is now available for purchase.


Otsuka's novel follows a group of recreational swimmers who are unknown to one another except through their own private routines in their local pool. When a crack appears at the bottom of the pool, the swimmers find themselves cast out into the unforgiving world. Alice, one of the swimmers, struggles as she loses her memory to dementia. Without the comfort of her daily laps and the quiet fellowship with other swimmers, 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." When Alice's estranged daughter re-enters Alice's life, she witnesses her mother's devastating decline. At the heart of this novel is a searing story about the intimacy between mothers and daughters and the sorrows of implacable loss.


Shirley Quan from Library Journal called the novel "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 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."


Maureen Corrigan, a book critic for NPR's Fresh Air, described The Swimmers as 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."

Julie Otsuka's first novel, When the Emperor Was Divine (Knopf, 2002), won the 2003 Asian American Literary Award and the 2003 American Library Association Alex Award. Her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic (Knopf 2011), 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. Otsuka is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.