Bibliophile | ‘Swimming in the Dark’ shares cross-cultural love story

Swimming in the Dark
By Tomasz Jedrowski
Bloomsbury

At the end of 1981, martial law was declared in the Socialist Republic of Poland, but Ludwik Glowacki wasn’t there as he had got on a plane and flown to the safety of America after graduating from university. It had been a difficult decision to leave his homeland and even more difficult to leave the love of his life Janusz.

Tomasz Jedrowski, who was born in West Germany to Polish parents and studied law at Cambridge, has centred his first novel around the forbidden love between two young men in Communist Poland. Their passions erupt with youthful enthusiasm when they meet on an agricultural work camp.

However, when the blissful summer of swimming in secluded lakes comes to an end, they must face the harsh realities of their lives in Warsaw. Ludwik has ideas of doing a doctorate while Janusz gets a job in the office of ‘press control’.

To make matters worse, Ludwik is disillusioned and wants a better life while Janusz is unquestionably patriotic and is willing to work within the system.

Hania, the daughter of a high-ranking government official, flirts with Janusz but she also has access to Western luxuries, drugs and a great summer house to have parties in. Janusz does little to stop Hania’s advances and Ludwik begins to feel the distance created by Janusz’s beliefs as well as his need to fit in.

Thanks to his mother and grandmother, Ludwik knows that there are better alternatives. Ludwik begins to feel that his life was “a tiny narrow corridor with no doors leading off it, a tunnel so narrow it bruised [his] elbows, with only one way to go.”

It is a compelling love story that is written with such lyricism that you have to read until the end, even though you know what will happen as it is foreshadowed at the beginning of the novel. Ludwik has such reluctance facing ‘his darkness’, just like his country did soon after when it had to face “its archive of lies, wading through the bog towards some new workable life”.

Lezly Herbert


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