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Swimming in the Dark

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A Guardian Book of the Year

'The highest talent at work' Sebastian Barry

'Beautiful … A masterpiece' Attitude

Poland, 1980. Shy, anxious Ludwik has been sent along with the rest of his university class to an agricultural camp. Here he meets Janusz – and together they spend a dreamlike summer falling in love.

But with summer over, the two are sent back to Warsaw. Confronted by the scrutiny, intolerance and corruption of life under the Party, Ludwik and Janusz must decide how they will survive; and in their different choices, find themselves torn apart.

'An affecting and unusual romance' Observer
'A new classic' Evening Standard
'A beautiful novel, and at its heart an amazing love story' BBC Radio 4 Open Book, Editor's Pick
'Jedrowski is an authentic new international star' Edmund White
'A remarkable, beautiful tale, utterly new and entirely credible ... This book radiates sensuality, humour, and human truths' Literary Review

213 pages, Kindle Edition

First published February 6, 2020

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About the author

Tomasz Jedrowski

1 book1,431 followers
Biography: Tomasz was born in West Germany to Polish parents and studied law at Cambridge. He lives in France, exploring local history, national identity, and ecology.

His debut novel SWIMMING IN THE DARK was published by Bloomsbury in the UK and William Morrow in the USA, and has been translated into thirteen languages. Film/TV rights and opera rights have been optioned. The novel was a finalist for the Polari First Book Prize (2021).

‘Imagine CALL ME BY YOUR NAME set in Communist Poland and you'll get a sense of Jedrowski's moving debut about a consuming love affair amidst a country being torn apart.’ — The Oprah Magazine

Tomasz Jedrowski is currently writing his second novel.

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Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,309 reviews120k followers
August 3, 2021
…we can never run with our lies indefinitely. Sooner or later we are forced to confront their darkness. We can choose the when not the if. And the longer we wait, the more painful and uncertain it will be.
This is a stunning work of surpassing beauty!

Tomasz Jedrowski - image from Interview Magazine

Ludwik Glowaki did not fit in. Communist Poland in the 1980s. A period when the old regime was beginning to crumble. A time when being gay was a criminal offense.

Ludwik, living in New York City, looks back at a life that is still young, remembers his first crush, on an older, more developed boy, one he came close to kissing, and certainly loved. But Beniek did not fit in either, for different reasons, and one day he mysteriously disappears. As a teen, Ludwik has a fleeting sexual experience. But when he is 22, he is sent to a typical communist re-education summer camp, to learn about peasant, farming life, riding with his schoolfriend Karolina. Over their four years in college she had introduced him to a variety of influences, Simone de Beauvoir. Milosz, Szymborska, Kapuscinski, and others.
This is how I lived back then—through books. I locked myself into their stories, dreamt of their characters at night, pretended to be them. They were my armor against the hard edges of reality. I carried them with me wherever I went, like a talisman in my pocket, thinking of them as almost more real than the people around me, who spoke and lived in denial, destined, I thought, to never do anything worth recounting.
Walking one day by the river near the camp, he sees a young man swimming, Janusz. They strike up a friendship, with Janusz encouraging Ludwik to step deeper and deeper into the water until he is swimming, in a clear sexual metaphor.
Some people, some events, make you lose your head. They’re like guillotines, cutting your life in two, the dead and the alive, the before and after.
While Janusz becomes Ludwik’s great love, they find themselves on opposite shores politically, as Janusz has made his peace with the existing power structure and wants to work his way up within it. Ludwik knows that he can never be himself in such a system and wants to pull Janusz away from what he sees as moral peril, but he is still living in a corrupt system, and sometimes compromise is unavoidable.

A central literary element is James Baldwin’s groundbreaking novel, Giovanni’s Room. Ludwik gives it to Janusz to read, and it forms part of the bond between them, as they both relate to Baldwin’s protagonist, his struggles with sexual identity, and his ability to survive in a hostile society, with the freedom to be who he is, or without it.
It felt as if the words and thoughts of the narrator—despite their agony, despite their pain—healed some of my agony and my pain, simply by existing.
Freedom of diverse sorts is considered. It is clear that in this very corrupt society, the in-group, the party faithful, the party operatives, have much more freedom to do as they please than the rest of society. But this requires that they themselves become corrupt, (presuming they did not start out that way) overlook clear cases of governmental thievery or incompetence, taking excess material benefits for themselves, while others endure rationing and shortages. Questions of freedom extend to what subjects are considered politically appropriate for graduate school theses. Even the ability to get a seat in graduate school can be curtailed by a less-gifted student with a more powerful political connection. Freedom of movement can be constrained by corrupt officials in charge of granting passports. Everywhere you turn there are barriers to freedom, the freedom to love who you want, or the absence of it, obviously being central.
My life was a tiny narrow corridor with no doors leading off it, a tunnel so narrow it bruised my elbows, with only one way to go. That or the void I told myself. That or leave.
Jedrowski captures this beautifully, contrasting the stark differences between the decadence of those considered more equal than others, their access to materials and services, their condescension, with the meager existence of working people. Some people have little or no access to needed medical help, for example, while for others it is only a phone call away.

Swimming and water imagery flows through this very brief novel, deepening when the two young men go on a post-camp holiday to a sylvan place that features a secluded lake. Throwing a fish back into a river later in the book taps the imagery to a different purpose. The oppressive gray, wintry, city is contrasted with the gentle, beautiful, blue-sky countryside, where love has a much freer rein, untrammeled by the heavy weight of urbanization. More contrasts present as workers organize and protest, but military forces beat them down. Freedom may be worth fighting for, but it will exact a heavy cost.

Jedrowski captures the passion of young love, the intensity of growing into adulthood with its moral challenges and demands for compromise, and the struggle of coming to grips with a society that is both daunting and crumbling. The undercurrent of fear and oppression, and the prospect of imminent civil war is palpable.
It rained for days on end. The drops drummed onto the rooftops and hammered the streets. Thunder growled like the anger of our forefathers. It felt like the city was under attack, like the city and its streets might begin to give way, dissolve, its life flowing into the Wisla and out into the cold depths of the sea.
There have been many great books, great romances, set in times of political turmoil. Doctor Zhivago, on a far grander scale, comes to mind. But, while Swimming in the Dark is a much smaller book both in size and ambition, it captures that same sense of the earth crumbling beneath your feet. Similarly, it contrasts those who stay with those who go, showing their conflicts and motivations. I was reminded of The Unbearable Lightness of Being as well, for its portrayal of Eastern European oppression. It also summoned to mind great coming of age novels set in tumultuous times, like A Separate Peace.

Tomasz Jedrowski’s first novel is a triumph. A tale of forbidden love in a time of conflict, a story of human warmth in a chilly age, a narrative that is written with exquisite sensitivity and great beauty and power. It is tender, moving, sensual, and engaging, while offering readers a close-up look at a turbulent time in a perilous place. Swimming in the Dark is an instant classic. Don’t miss it.
We swam, fearless and free and invisible in the brilliant dark.

Review posted – April 24, 2020

Publication dates
----------April 28, 2020 - hardcover
----------April 13, 2021 - trade paperback

=============================EXTRA STUFF

I did not turn up any digital links for the author. If you are aware of any, please send them along.

----- Interview Magazine - The Author Tomasz Jedrowski Keeps Coming Back to Giovanni’s Room by Christopher Bollen

Frankly, there is not much out there at present re interviews with the author. I expect by the time he produces a second book that situation will be improved. We do know that he is 34, or so, lives outside Paris, and was born in Germany to Polish parents. The novel was based on the world his parents lived in when they were young, and was inspired, at least in part, by the first man he met who was out, a friend of his parents, as he wondered what life had been like for him back then.

Items of Interest
-----James Baldwin - Giovanni’s Room PDF
-----Czesław Miłosz - Nobel-Prize-winning Polish poet
-----Wisława Szymborska - Nobel-Prize-winning Polish poet and essayist
-----Ryszard Kapuściński - Polish journalist, photographer, poet, and author
-----Solidarność - aka Solidarity - the Polish Labor union that played a central role in ending Communist rule
-----Quo Vadis - an 1895 historical novel by Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz

-----Donna Summer – I Feel Love
----- Donna Summer – Bad Girls
-----Blondie - Heart of Glass
-----Everly Brothers - All I Have To Do Is Dream
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
964 reviews6,816 followers
June 3, 2023
Some people, some events, make you lose your head. They’re like guillotines, cutting your life in two, the dead and the alive, the before and after.

Every so often a book comes along that just hits all the right notes for you, charming you while also compelling you to grip the covers as each frenetic flip of the page pulls you further into a story you want to see how it plays out yet never want to reach the ending. Polish author Tomasz Jędrowski’s glorious debut, Swimming in the Dark, did just that for me and I was enraptured by this tragic love story where politics and history threaten to pull these two men apart at every turn. Set in a 1980s Poland but told retrospectively in letters addressed to “you” from the ‘dreadful safety of America’ as unrest boils over back home, Jędrowski examines the painful uncertainties and fears faced by LGBT communities under the Party but also the joys of first love. The style and themes here will likely draw comparisons to Call Me By Your Name. The novel vibrates with the arts and joys of social lives—with Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin playing a central role and the nightclub and social scenes of dreary Warsaw sharing thematic importance with vibrant rural Poland—to draw you into the character’s livelihoods as if you were a participant, which also forces you to feel the shadow of an obdurat ruling structure creeping over their lives all the more. Swimming in the Dark is a gorgeously written novel rife with symbolism that reads like an instant classic, telling a singular yet universal tale of life and love being tossed about the waves of political turmoil as a powerful microcosm of history.

(Demonstration in Warsaw, 1982. Previously banned photograph, Karta Centre Collection)

Like any love story bibliophiles crave, Swimming in the Dark begins with a book: an ‘unauthorized, underground’ printing of Giovanni's Room our narrator, Ludwik, obtains after an overheard conversation in a gay bar. Jędrowski really goes for the heartstrings, having Janusz come upon Ludwik lying in the grass reading Baldwin while the two are attending the mandatory summer work camp to graduate university. There is an instant connection, and Ludwik risks being exposed--both for his sexuality and possessing banned literature--by lending Janusz the book. ‘You listened, really listened, gentle eyes taking me in without judgment,’ Ludwik writes of their early meetings, ‘making me feel more heard than I knew I could be.’ To commit to Janusz is to give himself into the freedoms and raptures of love, but also to risk everything. He is, as he writes so eloquently, ‘paralyzed by possibility, caught between the vertigo of fulfillment and the abyss of uncertainty.

So much of this novel delves into the socially taboo. ‘There was a certain pleasure in doing what I had not allowed myself before,’ Ludwick writes, ‘a satisfaction in the forbidden, a challenge.’ With so much lurking in the forbidden, to trust or not in another bears the risk of ruin and often in matters of life or death. Trust is central to this narrative and the difficulties of navigating a relationship where being exposed can have terrible consequences. Each characters presents unique avenues to explore the theme, from trusting a stranger to hide Ludwik when he acts as an antagonizer to the crowd during a workers uprising, to trust that is taken advantage of or otherwise abused. The philosophical dualites between Ludwik and Janusz that tests their relationship over time extends beyond their opposing political viewpoints to how they handle issues of trust. Duality itself is a major theme in this novel that constantly juxtaposing various pairs to create an emotional analysis and imagery in high contrast. While both of them exploit issues of trust for personal gain, it is the way Janusz does so by taking advantage of another and disrespecting them as a person that truly creates a cataclysmic chasm between them.
we can never run with our lies indefinitely. Sooner or later we are forced to confront their darkness. We can choose the when not the if. And the longer we wait, the more painful and uncertain it will be.

The political landscape of the novel worms its way into everything and makes trust all the more precarious of enterprises. What is most charming, and will likely be an empathetic aspect to readers, is the way the two young men’s duality is best examined in their trajectory from literature. Both studied literature at the University and Ludwick sets out to do a PhD, writing his proposal on James Baldwin. While he connected to Baldwin over his openness over the traumas of being a young gay man in a society that violently frowns upon such thing, he writes his paper on the racism in America that Baldwin wrote about. For one, he cannot admit he has read Giovanni’s Room—which officially doesn’t exist as far as the Party is concerned—and writing on this topic would surely be dismissed. Writing about racism in America allows him to bypass the censorsorial nature of the University and please them for criticizing the West and thereby upholding the Soviets, but secretly he is still making a statement on the mistreatment of LGBT citizens. Additionally, Ludwick has seen racism first hand in Poland, when the first boy he ever kissed as a child is disliked and pressured to leave for being Jewish. There is a lot of textures and layers to the inclusion of Baldwin in this book

On the other hand, Janusz joins the Office of Press Control where he decides what to ban and what to publish. This sort of ideological difference is root in all their arguments and political discourse always threatens to tear them apart. Disagreements over the Party frequently occur, becoming more ethically murky when proximity to the Party is a gatekeeper for their futures with Ludwick beholden to Janusz’s connections after he obtains medicine to save the life of Ludwick’s impoverished landlady.

One day your country is yours, and the next it isn’t.

The youth culture of 1980s Poland really comes alive through club and party scenes on the tab of wealth Party-connected friends contrasting with the workers fighting police in the streets and the drab poverty of struggling citizens. We have the official narratives of the Party versus the secret nightly listening to Radio Free Europe. Meat prices are skyrocketing and food is hard to come by as citizens are merely ‘queing for a possibility, queuing for something, maybe queuing for nothing.’ The meager housing of Ludwick looks rough compared to Janusz’s Party Official pay level apartment but completely dwarfed by the wealthy possessions of Hania, Janusz’s high-level Party connection. She lives in ‘a place of pleasure and peace, indifferent to governments, faithful to whoever happens to be in power,’ which offends Ludwick to his core as he thinks ‘how undeserving you all were of it.

Those with power hold it so strongly as to push around and push out lives on a flight of fancy while others live entirely on the brink of destruction. While holy devoted to the party, Janusz see’s the wealth of others as something to exploit, claiming innocence as its just something he must do to survive and if he fools them it is their own fault. He even uses Hania’s affection for him to keep her favors coming, leading her on much to the heartache and ethical frustrations of Ludwick. Later in life Ludwick will wonder ‘what kind of pact you’ve made with yourself. Because we all make one, even the best of us. And it’s rarely immaculate. No matter how hard we try.

What is most astonishing in this book, though, is how dynamic the characters can be. They are flawed people who behave in shocking yet authentic ways, with the surprising mercy and kindness shown from one character near the end delivering such a powerful wave of emotion that it shook me deeply. While the scene figures as a sort of "coming out" moment, but the author didn't want this to be the 'major message' because 'really what I care about is trying to discover those grey znes and, really, the truth...I've always been more comfortable with what I do, with verbs rather than nouns.' The way this moment is blended with other themes and Hania's reaction is worth the entire ride. Jedrowski opens these characters up to the reader, feeling the raw nerves of their anxieties, frustrations and devastation. This book is an emotional symphony, sometimes caustic, sometimes bittersweet, but always beautiful.

This book reads like a classic in all the best ways. The prose is arresting and serene and though there are a few overwritten flourishes, the language truly astonishes on the page. The novel was written in English despite not having grown up in an english-speaking society. ‘It’s my literary language,’ Jedrowski explains in the interview after the novel.
Because it’s in English that I really started reading books properly. It’s this part of my mind that feels really intimate and private, but not the same as intimacy between me and my family or intimacy between me and my husband. It’s a sort of self-intimacy.

This gives a very intimate tone to the work itself, with each page truly embodying a tenderly written reminiscence of love. The imagery is very romantic at times, with sexual intimacy with Janusz described in cosmic metaphor of infinity and freedom, starkly contrasted with a scene of sexual betrayal that is very beastial, and earthly with pagan connotations. This is a novel that can be heavily analyzed, with Jedrowski offering plenty of carefully packed messages encoded all over the book.

This book truly grabs your heart and doesn’t let go. The political is personal and the person is political in Swimming in the Dark, and Jedrowski has crafted a spectacular novel that is an instant favorite.


we can never run with our lies indefinitely. Sooner or later we are forced to confront their darkness. We can choose the when not the if. And the longer we wait, the more painful and uncertain it will be
Profile Image for Rebecca.
265 reviews275 followers
September 6, 2023
"We had no manual, no one to show us the way. Not one example of a happy couple made up of boys. How were we supposed to know what to do? Did we even believe that we deserved to get away with happiness?"

Swimming in the Dark follows two young men, Ludwik and Janusz, in early 1980s Poland. After spending a summer together and falling in love, they find themselves on opposites sides of the political divide. Young lovers separated by a country, by different visions of what society should be and how they fit into the world.

Oh my poor little heart! This story is emotional and heartbreaking. The writing is beautiful and so lyrical that I found myself re-reading paragraphs just to take them in completely. Ludwik and Janusz live between fear and love, trying to escape one without losing the other. I was heartbroken throughout most of the book. From the beginning we get a sense of what's coming, how this story is going to end and what will be lost. But the sorrow, the tenderness and melancholy with which Ludwig remembers the past shot right through my heart.

The characters and their development, and later deterioration of their relationship are captured brilliantly. I can't believe this is a debut novel. I have had a hard time moving on from this one. I know the mere mention or thought about this book will bring back the squeeze in my chest and lump in my throat. Is love (and life) worth it if you can't experience it without fear? Is love worth sacrificing your identity for?

Please, read this masterpiece of a novel. Congratulations Tomasz Jedrowski!

My Highest Recommendation.

"No matter what happens in the world, however brutal or dystopian a thing, not all is lost if there are people out there risking themselves to document it. Little sparks cause fires too.”
Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
November 7, 2021
The pain of separation of a homeland and losing someone to himself. Initially this left me a bit cold but the final 20 pages or so elevate the whole book to an aching, melancholic beauty
I avoided you, so that you couldn’t avoid me.

Initially I was not fully enthralled and thought I read the story Swimming in the Dark before. But the ending despite my trepidation made me tear up.

There is a (for me) distinct lack of dialogue in the first 50 pages, quite descriptive with a lot of metaphors. The relationship with the land in the communist rural working camp for intellectuals, attendance mandatory to be able to graduate, reminded met enormous of the chapters in Anna Karenina of Levin working the fields with his serfs.
Also after the scenes at the lake, quite early in the narrative, I felt that we had the highpoint of happiness of the main characters and the implied tragic of the rest of the book daunted me a bit.
But new themes came to the fore, like the corrupting lure of the perks of the status quo, almost The Great Gatsby in glitter and gold plating.

I missed some details to make the attraction of Janusz, and for that matter the narrator himself, relatable and to really feel invested till the last 30 pages or something, but those pages hit the feels like a sledgehammer. In the end the theme of being true to oneself, on multiple levels, is at the heart of the book.
This quote captures that in a gorgeous manner, and this aching sense of melancholy elevated this debut of Tomasz Jedrowski to a four star read for me:
Because you were right when you said that people can’t always give us what we want from them; that you can’t ask them to love you the way you want. No one can be blamed for that. And the odds had been stacked against us from the start: we had no manual, no one to show us the way. Not one example of a happy couple made up of boys. How were we supposed to know what to do? Did we even believe that we deserved to get away with happiness?
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,509 reviews29.5k followers
May 23, 2020
4.5 stars, rounded up.

Swimming in the Dark is a gorgeous story about love, longing, sacrifice, and secrets.

Ludwik and Janusz first meet at a Polish summer work camp in the early 1980s. Ludwik is mesmerized by Janusz’s carefree manner, his bravado, and his handsomeness, all of which awaken a longing which frightens him. The two connect by chance one night at the river, and they quickly fall into an intense relationship.

When their time in camp is done, they spend a few weeks alone together, camping in the wilderness, living a romantic and dreamy existence that they know is impossible upon their return to the repression of their “real world.” Ludwik, the dreamer, tries to encourage Janusz to leave Poland with him, but Janusz knows that isn’t realistic.

Soon after they return home, the divide between them grows. Janusz gets a job working for the Party, while Ludwik wants to pursue a doctorate. They spend time together in brief, furtive encounters, yet Ludwik isn’t content with living a secret life forever. But what sacrifices is he willing to make, and what will they mean to him and Ludwik?

"...people can't always give us what we want from them; that you can't ask them to love you the way you want."

Lyrical, gorgeously told, and powerfully emotional, this quiet book packs a punch. It’s a tremendous exploration of a time and a culture where getting what you wanted often meant compromising yourself, and not everyone was willing to do this. Tomasz Jedrowski is an exceptionally talented storyteller.

God, this book was really beautiful.

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2019 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2019.html.

Check out my list of the best books of the decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
782 reviews12.4k followers
June 7, 2021
“My life was a tiny narrow corridor with no doors leading off it, a tunnel so narrow it bruised my elbows, with only one way to go. That or the void, I told myself. That or leave.”
This book speaks in a quiet voice, but the surprising strength of a quiet and lyrical voice can be unexpectedly mesmerizing.

The setting is Warsaw, Socialist Republic of Poland in 1980 - the Soviet period, full of stifling bureaucracy, food shortages and endless queues for some and rich great and fun life of excesses and freedoms for the others - the select few who happened to be *more equal* than the “common masses”.
It was the time of resentment and discontent, chafing against the oppressive bonds and the start of Solidarity movement which eventually led to the dissolution of the Soviet rule over the course of the decade.

This is the country that Ludwik Glowacki left behind — we learn this from the very first page of the prologue — and recalls it on the day when martial law was introduced in Poland, on December 13, 1981. And it’s not just the country that he left behind, but also the man he still loves despite everything. This book is Ludwik’s mental letter to Janusz, the one left behind — the one who *chose* to stay behind.

Ludwik, raised on the illegal Radio Free Europe, chafes against what he perceives to be a very oppressive, corrupt and stagnant regime. A sensitive soul, he also has been living in shame at his hidden homosexuality, craving intimacy that the Catholic Socialist country of his makes quite impossible to achieve.
“This is how I lived back then – through books. I locked myself into their stories, dreamt of their characters at night, pretended to be them. They were my armour against the hard edges of reality. I carried them with me wherever I went, like a talisman in my pocket, thinking of them as almost more real than the people around me, who spoke and lived in denial, destined, I thought, to never do anything worth recounting.”
Janusz, coming from a poor village family of “nothing’, drunks like so many others”, is on the other hand grateful for the opportunities to rise above his lot in life, to advance, to take life by the horns and make it give to him everything it can. He does not want to destroy the system — he prefers to find the ways to make the system work for him, even if it means joining the ranks of the despised corrupt elite with their coveted life of excesses. He has a good grasp on how to get what he wants and how to succeed.
“I felt like a child again, a happy one this time, whose wishes had always been granted. On the other side of the window night had fallen, and dark figures moved past in the street with downcast faces and empty bags, and empty stomachs, I guessed. But we didn’t see them. It was so much better on this side of the glass. So much warmer, so much softer.”
What unites them is their forbidden love, the experience of reading an illegal copy of Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. What separates them is everything else, Ludwik’s “dreamer” self, Janusz’s stalwart practicality. And who’s to say whose approach to life is better — to run away or to carve out a niche for oneself? Although we are meant to empathize with Ludwik, I felt for Janusz and his also impossible situation.
“I’m not cut out for it, Ludwik,’ you said, like an apology. ‘I belong here. And I will make it, one way or another.”
It is a quiet book, short on grandiose ideas and passionate proclamations. It is softly, lyrically written and focuses on the smaller scope of individuals rather than the ideas, while still giving us more than a passing glance at the greater political events underlying human existence. And that’s where its strength lies for me — in the humanity of it.

It is written well, in a language poetic but still grounded, only seldom venturing into the perils of overwritten prose, but mostly finding just the right balance.
“I reached out for your old self, waiting for our masks to wear off in the cold of the night.”
It is a strong and thoughtful debut novel. I hope to see more from Tomasz Jedrowski soon.

4 stars.
“And yet, it occurs to me now that we can never run with our lies indefinitely. Sooner or later we are forced to confront their darkness. We can choose the when, not the if. And the longer we wait, the more painful and uncertain it will be.”


Edited to add: Read the book that is so important for Ludwik: Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin. It is superb, and I think gives an extra dimension to this book.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews598 followers
October 15, 2019
“Swimming in the Dark” is a debut novel by Tomasz Jedrowski — a graduate from Cambridge University and the University of Paris. Born in Germany to college parents, he has lived in several countries, including Poland, and currently lives outside Paris, France.

This tender-compassionately-told story is set in the early 1980’s Poland….set against the violent decline of communism.

At the very beginning of the story we are introduced to a memory from when Ludwik, (in his 20’s), was a young 9 year old boy…..remembering his childhood friend, Beniek.

Ludwik was actually writing a note to Janusz, a guy he met when he was a university student….a past lover who he could not erase from his mind.
Ludwik hadn’t seen Janusz for a year since leaving Poland for America. Ludwik had an intense affair with Janusz when they were in college — having first met at a summer agriculture camp.
Ludwik had never told Janusz about Beniek….and felt the need to write him and share his childhood story- about Beniek - a love he withheld.

Ludwik and Beniek, both 9 years of age, had known each other almost all their lives. They lived in the neighborhood, Wroclaw, in Poland. They went to the same community church — both attended Bible school twice a week. They were normal boys —playing as kids do. They would go to the beach and climb the dunes -enjoyed their friendships. But one day — Ludwik looked at Beniek with desires, fears, and shame. He was having sexual feelings for him.
“Beniek was a reminder that I had unleashed something terrible into the world, something precious and dangerous”.
Beniek was also Jewish, and never attended the communion celebration service with Ludwik, ‘because’ he was Jewish.
Ludwik didn’t care about religion —didn’t know Beniek was “different” from him as his mother said. Beniek was simply his best friend….and the boy he was growing feelings for.
One day —Beniek was just gone. His family left for Israel. The word “Israel” was a whisper to Ludwik and meant nothing to him……only sadness that Beniek was gone.
“Tears started to slide down my cheeks like melted butter”.
Ludwik’s had no closure. In Ludwik’s mind — that first attraction -that first love — is what made it possible for Ludwik to meet Janusz years later.

A little history ….about the setting… of this political/love story..
At the end of the war, the east of Germany became Poland and the rest of Poland became the Soviet Union.
Ludwik’s Granny (and family) was forced to leave their land near Lwow. The Soviets took their houses and hauled them on the same cattle trains that had brought Jews to camps a year or two earlier.
For over a century Poland had been divided by Russia and Germany, and it had ceased to exist on the maps.
From his mother and grandmother —Ludwik learned how after years of occupation, the people of Warswawa rose up against the Nazis, how the Soviets arrived,
and how, instead of helping the Uprising, they stayed on the other side of the Wisla and waited.
Ludwik’s mother and grandmother told him these truths in secret.
Ludwik was never to share anything of what he learned— The opposite of what he had learned in school
The Soviets were not their liberators. They weren’t their allies.

Ludwik swore that he would never become one of them, of those who led their mendacious lives in submission to the system.
So Ludwik sat through school and endured the lies he was taught carrying Beniek’s banishment
inside him- bile collecting in the pit of his gut!

Ludwik and Janusz become close — they bond over the illicit book “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin, (Ludwick’s most important profound & personal book). The also enjoyed the outdoor fresh air, nature, camping, swimming, and each other.
“You were there, and I was there, close, breathing. And I moved into your circle. All the way to the waiting body and your calm, open face and the drops on your lips. Your arms closed around me. Hard. And then we were one single body floating in the lake, weightless, never touching the ground”.

“The water’s surface glistened in the afternoon light, a deep calm blue. There was not a soul around. We walked to the edge and let our bags drop to the ground, looking across the lake, gleaming like a mirror hit by midday sun. The forest was all around us, and we were in its center, protected and soothed by this glittering eye”.

Ludwick had a professor who supported him. Professor Mielewicz praised a paper he wrote on Baldwin’s analysis of racism in America.
He said he’d be the first in his country to examine it.
“It made me think that throughout my life, at this point, everything I’ve done had felt either irrelevant or replaceable. Here, for the first time, was something that was wholly mine, something that needed me in order to exist”.

The book covers historical background about Ludwik’s mother and Granny — about Ludwik’s university years —about postwar politics — and at the heart of this story is a coming-of-age tale about when ‘freedom-of-love’ wasn’t safe.

Very moving - a quick read - tender - gracious & heartrending.

Thank You Harpercollins for this advance copy. This book will be released in stores in April, 2020.
Profile Image for Shile (Hazard's Version) on-hiatus.
1,106 reviews838 followers
August 25, 2021
5+++++++ "I adored this book more than you knew,"Stars.

Warning! Quotes! Quotes and more Quotes.

I walked home slowly. The air was suffocating. The sky was grey, and sticky wind blew through the streets, swirling up dust. The few people around looked hurried, caught inside their own minds even more than usual, their faces like masks.


GAAAAAAAHHH! I went into this one blind, after another convincing review from my friend Annery

This is the story of Ludwik.

Told in my favourite POV ever, 2nd person, it was:

-Beautiful. Sweet. Lyrical. Poetic.

We kissed. You were mine. I realised then that this was the only thing that counted. Nothing else had ever existed. Just our lips and hips and sighs. I fell into different galaxies through you, your mouth a porthole to a better universe.


-Amazing. Nolstagic.

GAAAAAHHH! I loved it hard. The lyrical writing style did it for me. The characters and character development was so good.

I avoided you, so that you couldn't avoid me. I didn't want to be in the field of your power. I envied your lightness & the beauty you carried with such ease.


Giovanni’s Room is referenced throughout the book, looks like I got to read it ASAP.
Profile Image for Frank Phillips.
527 reviews263 followers
August 19, 2020
This was such a short book that packed such an amazing punch!! This was queer historical fiction at its finest, I'm absolutely gutted! As heartbreaking as this book was to read, I found myself wanting more, thinking 191 pages is not nearly enough! I wanted so much more of this story, I wanted to know what happens with Ludik and Janusz down the road?! Do their paths cross again? Does Ludwik find some form of happiness? My goodness, I've never found myself craving so upon finishing a novel. This felt like reading a long, somber love letter rather than a novel, which I suppose was the author's intent. It felt utterly realistic, especially in the sense that life doesn't always have happy endings, or pan out the way we planned, sometimes it takes a long time to find contentment or even true happiness. The detail was rich throughout; the struggles these characters went through were so vivid it felt as if I were going through them myself! If only there had been a bit more to this plot, it would have undoubtedly been 5 stars for me, catapulting above Call Me By Your Name, probably one of my favorite queer novels. Such an incredible job Jedrowski. I cannot wait to read your next publication. To think that this is his debut novel, I'm a true fan!
Profile Image for Sahil Javed.
258 reviews250 followers
May 12, 2021
Swimming in the Dark is Tomasz Jedrowski’s debut novel. Set in early 1980s Poland, amidst the decline of communism, it tells the story of the relationship that develops between Ludwik and Janusz, two students who meet and then develop a relationship at a summer camp, only to find themselves on two opposites sides of the political divide.
“I don’t know whether I ever want you to read this, but I know that I need to write it. Because you've been on my mind for too long. I am done with pretending that I’ve erased you from my mind. Some things cannot be erased through silence. Some people have that power over you, whether you like it or not. I begin to see that now. Some people, some events, make you lose your head. They're like guillotines, cutting your life in two, the dead and the alive, the before and after.”

Like I’ve said before, there’s a certain beauty to retrospective storytelling, and Jedrowski really uses that to his advantage to introduce the story but also to intersperse the whole narrative with a kind of nostalgia and a certain kind of sadness, because you know when you start reading the book that the relationship between these two characters doesn’t end well, yet you can’t help but root for them anyway. This book is told through Ludwik’s perspective, but the narrative is told more like Ludwik is writing a letter or addressing his former lover, telling his side of the story. The novel explores the relationship that develops between these two men, but also explores homosexuality and identity, the intensity of first love, but also the pains of growing up and growing further apart from one another. And I think every single thing in this book was executed perfectly. The narrative voice, the progression of the plot, the writing itself, the characters and their interactions with one another, the themes that are explored and discussed, the political aspects of the novel, everything was done really well and all tied together to create what is definitely a memorable and remarkable novel, and one that I find I’m still thinking about.
“We hadn't really talked about ‘us’, or what it would be like back in the city, or anything else. There was no ‘us’. Of course, I had thought about it, had wanted to ask: ‘What is this? What are we going to do with it when we get back?’

I remember I only dared ask on the last night, as we lay in the dark of the tent, about to fall asleep after having made love. I asked the question into the dark, afraid. You didn’t say anything for an interminable moment and I thought you had fallen asleep. Finally, you whispered, ‘I don’t want this to end.’

My heart beating hard, knocking against the wall of my chest, I replied: ‘Me neither.”

The main aspect this novel explores that really made me fall in love with is the interactions between the two main characters, Ludwik and Janusz, and the development and then eventual deterioration of their relationship. But it comes across so naturally. When the two boys meet, the development of their relationship is slow and natural. They bond over the banned book Giovanni’s Room, they swim together, and then they grow closer, but you get a sense that these two can’t stay together forever, because the outside world is going to get in between them. And there’s always reality lingering in the background of everything, especially when you take into account the time period this novel is set in and what was happening in the country at the time. But the deterioration of their relationship was portrayed really well. Ludwik finds himself on one side of the political divide, harbouring thoughts and feelings that Janusz doesn’t agree with. But they remain together despite this fact, but it’s always something that hangs between them, that they both believe in different things and view their country and government in opposing ways. But I still understood both perspectives, and as the novel is told from Ludwik’s perspective, I didn’t hate Janusz when he was disagreeing with Ludwik. I understood why he thought the way he did. And when you take into account the fact that these boys are moving in completely different directions, the ending seems inevitable. Yet I was still hanging on, hoping things could work out.
“I approached, until I could see the drops of water on your forehead and on the tip of your nose and in the corners of your mouth. We didn’t say a thing. We looked at each other, already beyond words. You were there and I was there, close, breathing. And I moved into your circle. All the way to your waiting body and your calm, open face and the drops on your lips. Your arms closed around me. Hard. And then we were one single body floating in the lake, weightless, never touching the ground.”

The character development that Ludwik undergoes is moving and emotional, and a testament to Jedrowski’s masterful storytelling. There’s no way this can be a debut novel because the author weaves together the plot and characters like he’s being doing this his whole life. When we first meet Ludwik, he’s a character who has a lot of self-doubt and is coming to terms with what his identity as a gay man means for his life. The story is broken up into two parts, Ludwik in the present, and then him recounting what brought him to where he is in the opening of the novel. And the journey that this character goes through, in his relationship with Janusz, but also in his relationship with himself, is so moving and profound. The scene that touched me the most was when Ludwik came out and admitted for the first time in the whole book to another person that he was gay. And that scene made me cry so much, because it was so well done and there were so many emotions running throughout it all. But also because it was a long time coming, and that felt like the perfect moment.
“Because you were right when you said that people can’t always give us what we want from them; that you can’t ask them to love you the way you want. No one can be blamed for that. And the odds have been stacked against us from the start: we had no manual, no one to show us the way. Not one example of a happy couple made up of boys. How were we supposed to know what to do? Did we even believe that we deserved to get away with happiness?”

There’s clearly a new genre that I like, and I’m going to call it “sad gay books” and this is definitely one of them. Like I mentioned earlier, there was a certain kind of nostalgia woven throughout the story because you know from the beginning that these characters don’t end up together, but I still kind of hoped for a good outcome anyway. But the ending really made me emotional, in a way where I was sad that Janusz and Ludwik didn’t end up happy together, but I was also proud of Ludwik for how far he had come and where he found himself at the end of the book. I mean, in the process of saving himself and getting out of the country to America, he still protected Janusz to the very end, ensuring that he could have a happy life and that nobody would know about their relationship. That to me spoke wonders about his character, that he was still thinking about protecting the man he loves even though his heart was broken. He was a character that reminded me of myself, and that I just couldn’t help but root for throughout. This really was a beautiful story about love, identity and sacrifice, and how sometimes your differences can mean that you grow apart from someone you love over time. But it was a beautiful story, and it really touched me.
“‘I’m glad this happened,’ I said, enjoying the sound of my voice and its gentle vibration in my body.

‘Me too.’ You turned your head towards me, your eyes bright. ‘I knew it would happen since the beginning,’ you said, smiling.

Overall, Swimming in the Dark is a novel that I know I will be thinking about again and again, because it touched me in ways that I find hard to describe. It’s books like this that remind me why I love reading so much, because this barely 200 page story really resonated with me, and I’ve found that I’ve come out on the other side as a better person.
“We walked on through the forest, taking in its furtive sounds, until we reached our clearing and saw the moon on the surface of the lake. We stopped and watched. Then, without a word, we undressed and slipped into the water. We swam, fearless and free and invisible in the brilliant dark.”

Some of my favourite quotes and interactions from the book:
“I realise now that we never talked much about our pasts. Maybe it would have changed something if we had, maybe we would have understood each other better and everything would have bene different. Who can say?”

“Did you ever have someone like that, someone that you loved in vain when you were younger? Did you ever feel something like my shame? I always assumed that you must have, that you can’t possibly have gone through life as carelessly as you made out. But I begin to think that not everyone suffers in the same way; that not everyone, in fact, suffers. Not from the same things, at any rate. And in a way this is what made us possible, you and me.”

“This is how I lived back then – through books. I locked myself into their stories, dreamt of their characters at night, pretended to be them. They were my armour against the hard edges of reality. I carried them with me wherever I went, like a talisman in my pocket, thinking of them as almost more real than the people around me, who spoke and lived in denial, destined, I thought, to never do anything worth recounting.”

“My greatest terror was ending up alone. Yet part of me was sure that’s how I would end up, and that it was the worst thing that could happen to someone.”

“There was something about the way you looked at me that made me feel as if you didn’t judge. There are only so many people we meet in life who give us that feeling. And yet that night, as I lay in bed reading after the others had gone to sleep, I was scared. Scared about the hole I had made by trusting you, scared by the vulnerability it had created.”

“You shook your head and stared at some distant point on the horizon. ‘I should have known you’re one of them.’

‘Them what?’ I said, nervous suddenly, wondering whether I had made a big mistake.

You turned to me briskly. ‘Dreamers,’ you said, your mouth widening into a teasing smile.

I let the word ring out, relieved and warm by your smile so close to my face. ‘What’s wrong with dreaming about freedom?’ I said.

‘Freedom?’ you huffed, and smiled, as if you’d had the same conversation many times before. ‘Having oranges and banana every month of the year – is that freedom to you?’ Your smile was gone.

‘There is freedom in having what you want,’ I said carefully, “in choosing for yourself.’”

“I don’t know how many days we stayed at the lake, because each one was like a whole world, every moment new and unrepeatable. In a way these felt like the first days of my life, as if I’d been born by that lake and its water and you. As if I’d shed a skin and left my previous life behind.”

“‘You’ve changed,’ she said, calmly, like a clairvoyant announcing someone’s fate.

‘Have I?’ I made a grimace.

‘Your face.’ She held her hand to it, her middle finger resting on my cheekbone. ‘It looks like something’s opened up, something that was folded tight. Like a fist. I’d never noticed before, but now I do.’

“’So we’ve suddenly become a secret, huh?’

‘We’ve always been a secret, Ludwik. It’s just that until now there was no one to hide from.’

“It occurs to me now that we can never run with our lies indefinitely. Sooner or later we are forced to confront their darkness. We can choose the when, not the if. And the longer we wait, the more painful and uncertain it will be. Even our country is doing it now – facing its archive of lies, wading through the bog towards some new workable truth.”

“I am hungry, suddenly, as if I haven't eaten in weeks. I want borscht and pierogi and warm poppy-seed cake, and I feel this as a vast cavernous emptiness inside me, a yearning for warmth. But it isn’t painful at all. It feels like a promise.”
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,519 reviews8,985 followers
February 25, 2023
Omg, the gay longing in this novel made me scream! I loved the buildup and initial stages of the relationship between Ludwik, our protagonist, and Janusz, his romantic flame. Tomasz Jedrowski’s writing felt both economical and lush; he sets each scene with concise and vivid detail to the point where every glance, exchange of dialogue, and touch between the two lovers made me want to burst into flames, in a positive way. Unlike in other gay novels where the writing felt lacking to me (e.g., Call Me By Your Name) or the romance only consists of poor communication and sex, I felt a genuine level of connection and heat when reading about Ludwik and Janusz’s bond. I also enjoyed the sociopolitical commentary and how the two find themselves on opposite ideological sides within homophobic 1980s communist Poland, which raised the stakes throughout the novel.

The main reason I give this novel four stars instead of five is that it does fall into certain tropes, like Janusz being this beautiful athletic white man and a woman intruding into the relationship between Ludwik and Janusz (which I suppose makes sense given heteronormativity). The novel is short, so perhaps Ludwik and Janusz’s relationship could have been developed more, though perhaps the concision of the novel lends it strength as well. I liked the ending, how it spoke to Ludwik’s growth as a character and left us with some sense of hope, despite the deep sadness of his situation.
Profile Image for David.
619 reviews139 followers
July 20, 2020
I am a sucker for the tragedy! Who is to blame here? Society? The Party? Janusz? Ludwik? Hania? The author paints every scene with just the right details to let your mind vividly imagine every scene: from working in the fields, to the lake, to the cities, to the tram, to the gatherings of people. The sexual encounters are lean, but their placement and meaning is clear. There is so much more going on in this book.

There are parents and grand parents and societal pressures here. You must remain true to The Party to get a job. Ludwik has known from an early age that deep down he is gay, yet his shame is overwhelming. Janusz is more confident with his internal liking of guys, yet caught in the game of the party. As Janusz plays Hania for The Party, what does Hania really know?

I round this up to 5, but I am still partial to Giovanni's Room and Lie With Me. I did not feel a real tear until the very end of this story. I'm glad I read Giovanni again earlier this year. It is referenced so much throughout this book that it can almost be good to pause as soon as Giovanni gets mentioned, and go read that short tragedy, and then return to this book.

It may be hard for young readers to really understand The Cold War and the role/rule of Communism. Strangely though, the feeling of helplessness against government has returned, and much closer to home recently. Was anyone REALLY happy about their 'happiness' at the end of this book?!
Profile Image for Coco Day.
123 reviews2,542 followers
June 25, 2023
“i had always love the act of leaving, the expanse between departure and arrival when you’re seemingly nowhere, defined by another kind of time.”

i’m just the right amount of heartbroken after this, enough to have not lost all hope

“it feels like a promise”
Profile Image for luce (that loser crying on the n° 2 bus).
1,437 reviews4,049 followers
August 28, 2021
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“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 changed something if we had, maybe we would have understood each other better and everything would have been different. Who can say?”

Swimming in the Dark is a strikingly elegiac novel. The story, in its broadest terms, explores a young man’s identity and sexuality under Communist Poland.
In December 13th 1981 martial law is declared in the Socialist Republic of Poland. Ludwik Glowacki, a young Polish man, now living in America, hears this on the news. This Western 'acknowledgment' of his home country���s political unrest triggers a recollection of his past. Rather than reiterating his whole childhood, Ludwik lingers on some of his more meaningful experiences: starting at age nine, when he became infatuated with a Jewish boy, to his longer-lasting relationship to Janusz, a young man he meets while working on an agricultural camp.
Throughout the narrative Ludwik addresses Janusz in the second-person (which will probably elicit comparisons to Call Me By Your Name), giving his reminisce the impression of being an unwritten letter of sorts:

“You listened, really listened, gentle eyes taking me in without judgment, making me feel more heard than I knew I could be.”

But this is only partly a love story. Ludwik’s examination of his time in Poland will make you feel uneasy. We read of Ludwik’s early struggle to reconcile himself with his sexuality, of his self-discovery (aided by a copy of Giovanni’s Room), of his attempts to create a future in a growingly alienating society, and of the way Poland's tumultuous political and economical landscape affect him and those around him.

“To my own surprise, I was unable to accept the shame he wanted me to feel. It was too familiar to be imposed: I had produced it myself for such a long time that, right then, I found I had no space left for it any more.”

Ludwik's daily life is permeated by an undercurrent of fear one that forces him into secrecy. Yet as Ludwik struggles to maintain his identity in an increasingly watchful city, he finds himself not only holding but voicing dissident opinions. Because of this, his relationship with Janusz, who is much more complacent, becomes strained.

“Selfish. Growing into yourself is nothing but that.”

Jedrowski's writing is by turns allusive and explicit. Ludwik's intimate narration is one that might make readers feel almost uncomfortable, as if were encroaching upon his privacy. Yet, this intimacy also allows us to experience some of Ludwik's emotions, to understand the depth of his feelings for Janusz, his apprehension and guilt for having moved away from his grandmother, his growing sense of dislocation.

“I even attempt a smile. But I sense that either way my foreignness somehow absolves me from their judgment. To them, it must explain my strangeness completely.”

Jedrowski renders in an almost painful clarity what it means to live in a country in turmoil, a country whose government and (collapsing) economy worsen its citizens quality of life.
Against this bleak backdrop, Jedrowski's prose seems almost startlingly luminous. He emphasises the more striking nuances of the English language, and his word choices perfectly lend themselves to conveying the beauty and anguish in Ludwik's life.

“I was transported into a vision of my life that made me so dizzy my head began to spin. Shame, heavy and alive, had materialised, built from buried fears and desires.”

Jedrowski's writing also showcases a propensity for metaphors: “‘Perverts’ — the word falling from her lips like a two-limbed snake, dangerous and exciting”. At times these metaphors could be beautiful, often bringing certain moments or images from Ludwik's memory into the foreground, so that certain scenes are rendered in almost snapshot clarity. In other instances these seemed to accentuate Ludwik's impression or feelings towards someone or something.

“My life was a tiny narrow corridor with no doors leading of it, a tunnel so narrow it bruised my elbows, with only one way to go. That or the void, I told myself. That or leave.”

Certain metaphors however stood out for the wrong reason, seeming over-written, silly, a bit too impressionistic, and made me wonder whether Jedrowski had an aversion for calling things what they are (for instance: “Tears started to slide down my cheeks like melted butter” / “Warm cave of his mouth” / “your ass was powerful, like two great smooth rocks sculpted by the sea” / “breasts like overripe fruit”).
Still, Jedrowski is a clearly skilled writer. The imagery he creates make his narrative into an almost sensory experience. His prose is acutely lyrical, and there were many instance in which I became lost in his language, in his rich, if occasionally high-flow, expression, and in his arresting juxtapositions.
Jedrowski's flair for metaphors brought to mind authors such as André Aciman and Ocean Vuong, while the ambivalent tone that shapes much of Ludwik's retrospective narrative reminded me of L'Arminuta and Lie With Me.
In spite of his novel's tragic undertones, Jedrowski's prose remains luminous, and there are some rare moments of true beauty in Ludwik's deeply personal tale. Still, a sense of disquiet seemed ever present. Perhaps Ludwik's hindsight distorts some of his memory, turning blissfully happy moments into bittersweet memories.

“One day your country is yours, and the next it isn’t.”

Living in a country that through its laws and policies imposed uniformity on its subjects, Ludwik not only does he hold onto his individuality but he tries to overcome the shame and guilt that seem irrevocably ingrained in him. Ludwik's psychological turmoil is temporarily alleviated after he comes across an illicit copy of Giovanni's Room. He begins to draw parallels between himself and its protagonist, and soon he fears that he too will behave in a cowardly way. I too became increasingly afraid for him, especially as he is repeatedly forced into morally distressing situations. Yet, to go against the tide is no easy feat, and there were many challenging occasions where Ludwik has to fight not to stray from his values.

“But like stones thrown into the sky with all one’s might, pieces of that night - the boys and the men who wanted them, the flirtation, the codes of seduction I could only guess at - returned to me with even greater intensity than I had lived. The law of gravity applies to memories too.”

Ludwik's relationship to Janusz is rendered with poignancy. There are moments of vulnerability, of frailty, of emotional and physical abandon, of weariness, and of grief. Due to the secret nature of their relationship Ludwik seems to be perpetually longing for Janusz. However, Ludwik's anxiety for his/their future, Janusz's job and acquaintances, and their contrasting political views, create conflict between them.

“I wondered about your role in all this, what kind of pact you’ve made with yourself. Because we all make one, even the best of us. And it’s rarely immaculate. No matter how hard we try.”

This novel is a deeply intratextual work. James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room appears throughout the narrative, at times it alleviates Ludwik's despair, in other occasions it appears to him almost as a cautionary tale. Baldwin’s novel allows him to read from a perspective he can understand.

“I was paralysed by possibility, caught between the vertigo of fulfillment and the abyss of uncertainty.”

In navigating his past Ludwik demonstrates incredible self-awareness. He acknowledges early on that his recollection of his past is imperfect and possibly biased. Retrospective blurs his memories. Yet, its is his present knowledge that allows him to 'dig' deeper, to discern his own motivations and feelings as well as those of others. In fact, as Ludwik ruminates his way through his past, he seems also to be trying to understand or question some of his choices.

“How does one bond with another child, as a child? Maybe it’s simply through common interest. Or maybe it’s something that lies deeper, for which everything you say and do is an unwitting code. ”

Swimming in the Dark presents its readers with an examination of a young love that is filled with passion, misery, contrition, and jealousy. Simultaneously graceful and unrestrained, this novel is brimming with sensitive and penetrating observations about youth, love (of being gay in a society that deems same-sex love unacceptable), family, and freedom. Written in a fluid prose Swimming in the Dark tells a moving story one that struck me for its piercing realism, for its painful subject matter, and for its believable and compelling characters.

“It sounded like an appeal, a right violated and invoked. My hand on the door handle, my back to you, heart pulsing in my temples. I could sense the word throbbing in the air. My name, claiming me. It wrapped its fingers around my shoulders and tried to hold me back.”

Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads
Profile Image for Juan Naranjo.
Author 5 books2,556 followers
January 26, 2022
Acabo de cerrar este libro y tengo el corazón todavía un poquito compungido. Esta es una de estas historias absorbentes que no te dejan soltarla, uno de esos libros delicados, melancólicos y hermosos que te devuelven las ganas de embarcarte en historias y vidas ajenas.

«Nadar en la oscuridad» es una historia de amor. O de desamor. O de amor condenado al desamor, más por las circunstancias que por las ganas que se le ponen. Nos habla de lo que les pasó a Janusz y Ludwik, de cómo tuvieron que pasar el verano en un campamento de trabajo en la Polonia comunista de principios de los ochenta y de cómo ahí se enamoraron y, en secreto, empezaron una preciosa relación llena de miedos y angustias provocados por un régimen autoritario y una sociedad muy cerrada. Uno de ellos solo quiere que huyan de ese país para que juntos puedan empezar una vida en libertad en Occidente. El otro tiene una fe ciega en el sistema socialista y solo quiere integrarse en el mismo y escalar en el funcionariado para vivir lo mejor posible. La vida que, en un principio, parecía unirles para siempre se empeña en separarlos. Y lo consigue.

Esta novela se queda ya conmigo para siempre. Sus personajes me han hechizado. Su ambientación es cálida como un verano en un lago, gélida como un noviembre en Varsovia. Y su escritura (y su traducción) es ligera y dulce, pero también afilada y punzante. Un diez sobre diez. Lo recomiendo a cualquiera que quiera leer una novela emocionante, hermosa, triste y bien escrita.
Profile Image for Doug.
2,042 reviews742 followers
June 13, 2020
4.5, rounded up.

While I can see why the names Aciman, Greenwell and Hollinghurst are invoked in the synopsis, to me the more relevant antecedent would be Kundera, and this read to me as nothing less than a gay Polish The Unbearable Lightness of Being. For a debut novel, Jedrowski has a firm hold on his material, and though there are a few passages that are a bit overly flowery, or oppositely, seem stilted (I had to look to see if this was indeed translated into English early on), for the most part the plight of Ludwik and Janusz is rendered in a fluid and impactful manner. I'll admit to tearing up during the last few pages, and being able to fly through it in less than a day makes me unhesitatingly recommend it to all and sundry.

An interesting article by the author on the book's origins: https://lithub.com/on-writing-the-sto...
Profile Image for Talkincloud.
171 reviews3,357 followers
April 23, 2021
Jestem zaskoczony, że było to dzieło dość przeciętne, bo nastawiłem się na coś znacznie lepszego. Zapewne rozczarowanie wynika poniekąd właśnie z mojego entuzjastycznego podejścia, aczkolwiek patrząc na tę powieść bardzo obiektywnie: nie jest to coś, co w jakikolwiek sposób mogłoby wnieść coś nowego do świata literatury, poza "ładnym", choć czasem przykrym, obrazkiem relacji osób homoseksualnych w latach osiemdziesiątych. "Płynąc w ciemnościach" jest przystępna, łatwa, lekka, czasem wzruszająca, nieco kliszowa: szablonowa. Do przeczytania i odłożenia. Przynajmniej dla mnie.

Podoba mi się, że jest to książka oparta pewnie poniekąd na doświadczeniach autora. Włożył w nią serce i nie da się temu zaprzeczyć. Dobrze, że pojawiają się powieści o osobach nieheteronormatywnych i że piszą o tym jednostki, które znają taką perspektywę najlepiej. Cudownie, że Jędrowski wnika w przeszłość i próbuje pokazać, że osoby homoseksualne musiały odnaleźć swoje miejsce w trudnych czasach i nauczyć się żyć w niemożności pokazywania swojej prawdziwej natury; dążyć ku wyzwoleniu (w tym przypadku właśnie lata osiemdziesiąte w Polsce/stan wojenny). Niestety, tutaj nie było zbyt dobrze pod względem literackim i piszę to z przykrością. Szukam powieści nieco bogatszych, skomplikowanych i z głębią.

Jestem przekonany, że na rynku anglojęzycznym ta książka jest w stanie odnieść jeszcze większy sukces niż odniosła dotychczas, ale w zetknięciu z polskim wypada słabo. Miałem myśl, że tłumaczenie jest niezbyt dobre, ale to chyba nie o to tutaj chodzi (choć na pewno kilka aspektów wymagałoby rewizji i poprawy, bo nie wydaje mi się, żeby ludzie w latach osiemdziesiątych używali wyrażeń typu "no to git!").

Jak już zauważono wcześniej, a ja potwierdzę - za dużo tutaj sentymentalizmu. Za dużo uproszczeń, wzmianek mających na siłę pokazać w jakich czasach toczy się akcja. Dla czytelników zagranicznych to na pewno konieczne, dla mnie wydawało się trochę odklejone od całej reszty (a może inaczej - doklejone do całej reszty).

Było okay, dlatego 2 gwiazdki.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,490 reviews2,713 followers
November 25, 2019
An elegiac love story filled with melancholy and longing as the narrator struggles with sexual identity against the repressive background of Poland under Soviet rule. The writing flows easily but is spoilt at times through overwriting, especially in the figurative language and forced similes and metaphors. The details of everyday life in Poland are involving and I like that there's no miraculous ending. An intimate book with an emotive aura, simple but striking: 3.5 stars

ARC from NetGalley
Profile Image for Fátima Linhares.
519 reviews118 followers
April 6, 2023
Dado o avançado da hora quando terminei a leitura já só deu para transcrever um pequeno excerto. Vou agora tentar escrever qualquer coisa que preste.

Este livro estava debaixo de olho desde que sô dona Paula - a influenciadora e leitora exigente - lhe atribuiu 5 estrelas, ainda não havia notícias de ser traduzido para a língua do nosso Camões. Quando foi editado por cá, claro que tinha de ler. Comprei o livro na sexta-feira, recebi-o na segunda-feira de manhã e comecei a lê-lo também na segunda, ao fim da tarde e foi uma leitura que se prolongou até à primeira meia hora de terça-feira.

Estes detalhes interessam-vos para alguma coisa? Certamente que não, mas fica a ideia de que é um livro que se lê muito bem e que não enfada nem aborrece e cujo desenlace queremos conhecer.

É uma história de amor entre dois jovens rapazes e ao mesmo tempo um pequeno retrato da Polónia da década de 1980, quando esta ainda era comunista e fazia parte da União Soviética. Um romance que corre muito bem enquanto estão apenas os dois acampados na floresta, mas, que, quando regressam à realidade do seu país, esta dá-lhes um chapadão na cara e faz com que o seu idílio romântico estremeça mostrando-lhes que há diferenças que nunca poderão ser ultrapassadas. Um romance que nos mostra que por vezes temos de fazer uma escolha entre os nossos princípios e valores e as coisas mundanas. Ou somos fiéis a nós próprios e não saímos da cepa torta, ou deixamo-nos engolir pelo status quo.

Ludwik escolheu ser fiel a si próprio, apesar de ter aproveitado alguns dos privilégios que lhe foram concedidos através daquele cujas atitudes ele não compreendia nem aceitava, mas amava.

Gostei da parte histórica, já que pouco ou nada sei (sabia) sobre a história polaca e gostei do romance entre os dois jovens. Também tem excelentes referências musicais e literárias. Um livro que vale a pena ler e nos põe a pensar em quem somos.

Porque tinhas razão quando me disseste que as pessoas nem sempre nos podiam dar aquilo que queríamos delas; que não podemos pedir-lhes que nos amem como queremos ser amados.
Profile Image for Bart Moeyaert.
Author 100 books1,426 followers
August 16, 2021
De Hongaar die geen regenbogen verdraagt in een straal van 200 meter rond een school of een kerk heeft me op een heel onhandige manier te kennen gegeven dat je van lezen sterk wordt. Boeken, kinderboeken om te beginnen, verruimen je blik. Ik sla nu voor de gemakkelijkheid een paar stappen over, maar het komt er wel op neer.

Zijn kromme compliment raakt me erg, omdat ik in mijn leven iets met boeken doe, kinderboeken in het bijzonder. Bovendien ben ik ook heel erg de G uit het letterwoord LGBTQ+. Dit jaar ben ik me weer meer van die letter bewust geworden, terwijl ik de voorbije tien jaar zonder de G van gêne over straat heb gelopen.

Net op dit moment is het fijn om te merken dat ‘Zwemmen in het donker’ van Tomasz Jedrowski wereldwijd furore maakt. Het is een beetje te laat om het boek te verbieden, want het is al flink verspreid. Daar heeft de Hongaar die in een straal van 200 meter rond een school of een kerk geen regenbogen verdraagt het waarschijnlijk moeilijk mee.

Ludwik kijkt terug op een heftige tijd in Polen. Die tijd begon ongeveer in de zomer na zijn studies. Toen heeft hij Janusz ontmoet, tijdens een werkkamp op het platteland. Het communistisch regime noemde het werkkamp een buitenkans voor jonge mensen, maar eigenlijk waren het weken van verplicht hard labeur.

De twee jongemannen voelden zich tot elkaar aangetrokken. Het was ondenkbaar om dat in het publiek te laten merken, maar Ludwik durfde een eerste stap te zetten, en een boek voor hem te laten spreken. Hij gaf aan Janusz te kennen ‘wie hij was’ door hem een in Polen verboden boek uit te lenen: ‘Giovanni’s Room’ van James Baldwin.

Na het kamp begon de droomtijd: de twee hadden de mogelijkheid om aan een meer te kamperen, ver van de bewoonde wereld, en van elkaar te genieten. Helaas verdween de echte wereld ondertussen niet. Toen ze ernaar teruggingen was het contrast met hun dagen aan het meer groot. Of beter: het contrast leek alsmaar groter te worden.

Janusz keek weg van de protesten en stakingen en de lange rijen voor de winkels, en was bereid zich aan te passen aan het systeem. Hij ging mee in het verzwijgen en het verloochenen, en vond het niet erg om via vriendjespolitiek hogerop te komen. Ludwik zag de voordelen wel, maar was niet bereid om zijn principes geweld aan te doen.

En nu kijkt Ludwik dus terug. Vanuit Amerika. (Dat is geen spoiler.) Ik hoop dat je ‘Zwemmen in het donker’ te lezen krijgt, leent, koopt, doorgeeft, en dat je op geen enkel moment om je heen hoeft te kijken of je vlakbij een school of een kerk bent.

‘Zwemmen in het donker’ is uit het Engels vertaald door Maaike Bijnsdorp en Lucie Schaap.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,242 reviews2,227 followers
March 6, 2021

Absolutely beautifully written, tragic, heart breaking, but also incredibly relatable.
Profile Image for Marti .
250 reviews118 followers
August 2, 2022
Very heartwarming, heartbreaking, swoony, cute, and sad.

The main characters are not always likeable but they don’t have to be or are even meant to. The story seems so simple and so complicated at the same time, touching points like politics and love and a bruised society.

Overall an easy good read.
Profile Image for Axl Oswaldo.
332 reviews164 followers
July 5, 2022
3.5 stars rounded up

It seems to me that I have got great experiences with my readings lately, especially with those books I chose to read for this Pride Month. Swimming in the Dark was not an exception, and even though it didn't become an all-time favorite, I do believe it's a fantastic book, beautiful and emotional all at once.

This novel depicts the story of Ludwik, a young man who has emigrated to New York due to the political situation in his native country, Poland. Written as a letter to his former lover Janusz, Ludwik reflects upon their relationship and their ups and downs as well as the consequences they had to face in their country at that moment.
With a genuinely beautiful prose, Jedrowski is able to portray a vivid and profound story, where our main characters are also well developed, and whose background is also important so that we can understand the historical context where the story takes place.

Needles to say Swimming in the Dark strongly reminded me of two of my previous readings: Lie With Me and Giovanni's Room. Even the latter has an important role in this story—I prefer not to say why in order to avoid spoilers—and it's also noticeable a strong influence of this one on Jedrowski's novel, which is something that, as a huge fan of David and Giovanni's story, I really appreciated.
Now, I didn't really have any problem with Swimming in the Dark objectively speaking, and I can't say anything negative about the book; perhaps just the fact that there are many characters and some of them were not necessarily important for the main plot. Also, I felt the last part kind of abrupt and hurried, as if everything was happening in a rush, and therefore I couldn't enjoy the ending as I thought I would. Maybe this was the purpose of the author after all though, to create this 'storm' at the end in order for the reader to feel the same feelings the characters were feeling; when you see this from that perspective it makes completely sense.

I think then main, and perhaps only problem that I had with this novel was that I previously read Lie With Me and Giovanni's Room, two novels that became part of my favorites of 2022, and then when I was reading Swimming in the Dark, almost immediately after finishing Giovanni's Room, I realized that I couldn't 'feel' and connect to the story just as I did with the previous ones, and hence I couldn't empathize with the main characters in the way it was supposed to be. Also, I used to lose my interest in the story every now and then, but I don't want to say the story was boring or disappointing because it's not boring at all, and yet I couldn't help but feel as if I was reading this story twice.

All in all, this was certainly a good novel, and a great way to finish my #PrideMonth reads this year (this doesn't mean I'm not going to read other LGBTQ books from now on, and in fact, if I pick up a contemporary novel it has to be a LGBTQ novel, otherwise I'm not interested).
I'd highly recommend Swimming in the Dark to everyone, the perfect way to close this 'trilogy', as a friend of mine usually calls these three similar novels, and now I can tell why.

“This is how I lived back then—through books. I locked myself into their stories, dreamt of their characters at night, pretended to be them. They were my armour against the hard edges of reality. I carried them with me wherever I went, like a talisman in my pocket, thinking of them as almost more real than the people around me, who spoke and lived in denial, destined, I thought, to never do anything worth recounting.”
Profile Image for Dennis.
814 reviews1,604 followers
February 19, 2020
Swimming in the Dark is Tomasz Jedrowski's debut novel, but this elegantly written queer historical fiction novel is so profound that you'd never know it. Set in Post-World War 2 Poland, the central character Ludwik is navigating life through communism while battling his own demons.

As Ludwik develops his distain for Poland's communist restrictions, he also comes to terms with his sexuality. The novel is written as an epic love letter or story to one of the most important people in his life, a man he met through a summer camp—Janusz. Janusz and Ludwik develop strong feelings and a love that neither expected, but it has to be contained as Poland's strict Catholic and homophobic policies could destroy them. As the two forge a relationship, they also venture out on their careers. Ludwik tries to become a professor while Janusz joins the political game. They are on opposite sides of the political spectrum and their differences become a struggle that the two must come to terms with.

A story about love and loss, Swimming in the Dark is a beautifully written story that gripped me from the prologue through the ending. I read this book in one sitting because it's definitely a fast read. When it comes to content, it's refreshingly lighter than I expected—I think I've become burnt-out over demoralizing and over-sensationalized LGBTQ+ dramas. Tomasz Jedrowski, I can't wait for everyone to fall in love with Swimming in the Dark .
Profile Image for James.
150 reviews60 followers
June 16, 2020
Boy meets boy, falling in then out of love, in Jedrowski’s debut novel that, while peppered with moments of understated beauty (especially in the first three chapters), ultimately left me cold. As Ludwik grapples with “a vast cavernous emptiness inside [him],” so too does Swimming in the Dark struggle with the same, often feeling less like its own book, with a distinctive singular voice, than a book of books, their echoes patchworked—not necessarily intentionally, probably subconsciously—from other, more confident voices: Tartt’s Secret History when Ludwik and co. get delirious a nightmare forest; Williams’ Stoner with Ludwik’s thesis that, initially exciting, quite fails to go anywhere; Zusak’s Book Thief when Ludwik’s words achieve tangibility, “fallen to the floor”; not to mention Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name with its general undercurrent of gay. Originality isn't required for quality—great artists being also thieves and all—but good execution certainly is.

Bravely, too, does the novel fly closer to even the greats, evoking Orwell and 1984 with Jedrowski’s Bureau man , or Joyce and The Dead (“Snow tumbled from pillow-white clouds all over the city… covering streets and houses and cars with a sparkling crust”). And then there’s Baldwin and Giovanni’s Room that Jedrowski makes instrumental in forming Ludwik and Janusz’s love story, plus also my own love story with Baldwin. Reading both books together was maybe unwise, as Baldwin’s writing (pure, effortless-seeming art) proved less complementary to Jedrowski’s effort, and more revealing, i.e., of its relative lack. “‘Stop comparing us to that book!’” Janusz yells at Ludwik, and likely you too at me. True that while it’s probably best to deal with a book on its own terms, and not compare apples with oranges, that’s harder to do when those terms have been this muddled, and so willfully, adding peaches, bananas and what-have-you's for good measure. As Ludwik and Janusz discover love swimming in the dark, which is “brilliant,” Jedrowski is swallowed by it, overshadowed.
Profile Image for Lea.
891 reviews192 followers
October 29, 2020
Oh my, this was such a disappointment! I wanted to love this: A literary sad gay love story set against the backdrop of communist Poland sounded just like my thing.

Why didn't I like it then? Well: It didn't touch me. Not once. Everything felt very superficial. The dialogue felt really off and stilted, not like people actually speak. The scenes felt like I've read all of them before, they were very formulaic. But most of all, I just couldn't get into the style. It was overwrought and there were so many superfluous descriptions while so little was being said. It's a short book and yet I had to push myself through.
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