REVIEW: Swimming In The Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski

The Official Description: 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.

Just the facts: Queer fiction, set in the 1980s, coming of age, political

A stunning and beautiful story about two young men. They meet as young boys, fall in love and then the world sets them on different paths. – Kinzie Things

My thoughts bit: 

I’m late with this review… but this book was on my own “to read” list. I’m pleased to say that I got it from my local library and finally found a free moment to read it. I am so glad that I waited for this one because I needed the time to devour it. “Swimming In the Dark” is a beautiful story about youth, falling in love, growing up and the politics of Poland in the 1980s.

I didn’t know much about the recent history of Poland but this book has made me curious. I’ll be doing some reading in the future about Poland and it’s politics. This story is set in the early 1980s, university student Ludwik is at a summer work camp when he first recognizes he has feelings for Janusz.

Over a few weeks in the summer, they embark upon a wonderful journey. Jedrowski’s writing was lyrical and entrancing. I was taken back to my own summer days by the lake. Some of the descriptions in the book are pure poetry and bring back all the summer memories of tanned skin, freckles, the scent of grass and the heat of the sun. In a world that doesn’t see too kindly upon their sexuality or their relationship, Ludwik wants more than stolen moments of a life he can’t have.

The thing that is captured so well by Jedrowski is the way that Ludwik knows he wants more… something “more than” what he is able to have with Janusz. But does he even know what that actually is? He’s had no role models, no gay couples to look at for a path to his future. He’s living in a society that barely acknowledges that gay men exist and has no future there.

As the two men go forward with their lives, they come up against the obstacles we all face. Their political beliefs differ, the way that they want to approach life differs, and sometimes, Janusz doesn’t even seem to want the same things that Ludwik does.

The two men begin to drift apart and come back together like waves on a shore. Ludwik pushes forwards and Janusz falls back even when he still tries to insist that there is a “way” for them to be together despite the social environment they live in.

The love between Ludwik and Janusz is remarkable in a world that fights against it. But, it’s also normal… it’s something that happens every day in other places in the world. The juxtaposition of the intensity of love and the daily fight for survival really left me reeling. Jedrowski has really left emotion all over the pages of this book – this one will leave a mark.

I decided to write a review of this book in light of the fact that there are still protests going on in Poland even as I write. People are fighting to be free. Books like this one are vital to changing minds and educating people.

Links: Goodreads // purchase

I borrowed Swimming In The Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski from my public library! 

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