The Swimmers by  Julie Otsuka

The Swimmers

Julie Otsuka

Imagine a situation in which you are observing life from far above, then gradually you zoom in and see more details. That’s what this book felt like to me. And the closer I got, the more I got involved emotionally. And so the language also changes. From a laconic, elaborate style with irony and even sarcasm the writing evolves to a more poignant repetitive wording and a loving, honest image of a woman’s failing mind.


A word about language. Here we say 'where you are in the sequence', not 'your condition is worsening.' We say someone is 'presymptomatic,' not, 'But she seems totally normal!' And, 'Let’s pursue this to the next level,' not 'It’s time to up your meds.' Problems we would rather not deal with are referred to as 'nonissues' and forwarded to the Care Quality Committee for 'further study and consideration.' Serious health code violations are 'onetime mistakes.' 'Outside' people are 'the unaffected.' And a room with some windows punched into it is called 'the Conservatory' (not to be confused with 'the Day Room'). Platitudes we will never utter include 'You’ll get through this' and 'Tomorrow Is a better day' (we do not believe in compassionate deception). Nor will we ever refer to you as 'Sweetie' or 'Bed 37B' or 'the Ivalo mutation carrier in Room 21.' We will call you, simply, by your name.

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