Victoria’s Book Reviews: Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski

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It is so exciting to read great work from new novelists – enter this debut from Tomasz that centres its coming-of-age plot around a love affair in Communist Poland that is not only forbidden, but whose protagonists are on different sides of the country’s brutal political divide.

“It’s best to start with the beginning—or at least what feels like it. I realise now that we never much talked about our pasts. Maybe it would change something if we had, maybe we would have understood each other better and everything would have been different. Who can say?”

Ludwick is an introverted boy. A voracious reader and deep political thinker, his quiet world is suddenly flooded with complicated feelings of lust and love when he meets Janusz at an agricultural camp. Come Autumn, the two will go their separate ways to college and adult life so, before the bubble bursts, they spend one summer together; a summer of self-discovery and unbridled passion.

But the passion becomes hard to let go of and, as the boys become men, moving into Warsaw and following their paths, they are required to put their love away in order to fall into line with the political conformity. But, for Ludwick, this censorship and self-censorship becomes increasingly impossible to bear, risking the safety of both men.

“You were right when you said that people can’t always give us what we want from them.”

I expect the word, ‘lyrical’ will be commonly found in reviews of this book as there is no doubt that its prose is delicate, emotional and heartfelt. Tomasz captures this dual source of punishing conformity – the communists and Catholic society – in a surprisingly light but powerful way. This is not an overbearing or worthy book that is a slog to read; rather, Ludwick’s anguish at his lover and his country is beautifully captured with a sense of wistfulness and regret.

 

Swimming in the Dark is published by Bloomsbury; hardback RRP £14.99.

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