Swimming in the Dark (2020)

Polish title: Płynąc w ciemnościach (2020)
By: Tomasz Jedrowski
Published by: Bloomsbury
Originally published by: OsnoVa

Set in early 1980s Poland against the violent decline of communism, a tender and passionate story of first love between two young men who eventually find themselves on opposite sides of the political divide—a stunningly poetic and heartrending literary debut for fans of Andre Aciman, Garth Greenwell, and Alan Hollinghurst.

When university student Ludwik meets Janusz at a summer agricultural camp, he is fascinated yet wary of this handsome, carefree stranger. But a chance meeting by the river soon becomes an intense, exhilarating, and all-consuming affair. After their camp duties are fulfilled, the pair spend a dreamlike few weeks camping in the countryside, bonding over an illicit copy of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Inhabiting a beautiful natural world removed from society and its constraints, Ludwik and Janusz fall deeply in love. But in their repressive communist and Catholic society, the passion they share is utterly unthinkable.

Once they return to Warsaw, the charismatic Janusz quickly rises in the political ranks of the party and is rewarded with a highly-coveted position in the ministry. Ludwik is drawn toward impulsive acts of protest, unable to ignore rising food prices and the stark economic disparity around them. Their secret love and personal and political differences slowly begin to tear them apart as both men struggle to survive in a regime on the brink of collapse.

Shifting from the intoxication of first love to the quiet melancholy of growing up and growing apart, Swimming in the Dark is a potent blend of romance, post-war politics, intrigue, and history. Lyrical and sensual, immersive and intense, Tomasz Jedrowski has crafted an indelible and thought-provoking literary debut that explores freedom and love in all its incarnations.

~ taken from Good Reads


A short review in The Guardian

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Zielony Balonik book club notes:

Jenny Robertson writes:

I bought the book because the author’s Polish name interested me. On first read I enjoyed it very much. The story flowed, we could say, forgive me, it went swimmingly.
I found it very evocative of the time, the student work camp, the Polish countryside and hospitality of local farmers all rang true, as did the student party, oh, that chocolate cake which Ludwik didn’t eat. I could almost taste it!
The relationship and contrast of character and outlook between Ludwik and Janusz was well done. He notes wryly that the name  Janusz could break down to ja nóż, I, knife. He is going to be hurt.
In our discussion we noted the lies that people had to tell to survive, get necessary medication, even get accepted on to further studies.
But the thing that is the nub of the book, the police interview didn’t work for me. It hinged on the lonely man in the park, who gives the young Ludwik his first sexual experience, having given Ludwik’s name to the police, I cannot think that this man who had been in a Soviet prison would have given his name to a young inexperienced boy and expected to hear the boy’s in return. No way! Anonymity was all important.
And, pleasant though this story was, it no way deserves the six figure sum the author received for it. It has no lasting value and lacks profundity.

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