Book Club: Swimming in the Dark

Tomasz Jedrowski's story of love and life in Poland.

Book Club: Swimming in the Dark

First published in 2020, Swimming in the Dark is the debut novel from Tomasz Jędrowski.

Although he is Polish, Jędrowski wrote this language in English. While the language is at times simple and direct, it's a tremendous accomplishment to write so movingly in a language that you is not your first language.

What's it about?

Set in the 1980s, this is a turbulent time for Poland.

Written in the first-person, the story is told from the perspective of Ludwik - effectively writing a letter to Janusz, the boy he fell in love with.

Ludwik has left Poland to try and make a new life for himself whereas Janusz decided to make his life in Poland.

The significance of Giovanni's Room

The iconic novel by James Baldwin is referenced a number of times throughout the story of Swimming in the Dark.

Ludwik - exploring his sexuality - is drawn Baldwin's work and obtain's a contraband copy of Giovanni's Room.

In the early days of their friendship, Janusz asks to borrow what Ludwik is reading. The book creates a shared awareness of their queerness and their potential attraction to each other.

What themes does the novel explore?

The political context within which this story is set plays an important role in the motivations of the characters and the narrative tension.

Duplicity and hypocrisy are frequently highlighted - both at a personal level but also at a systemic level, as the country tries to navigate from authoritarian control into something different.

This is a story that takes us into classic Bildungsroman - coming-of-age - territory. Ludwik and Janusz meet in a rural setting, swimming naked in a lake, and then cement their bond on an idyllic camping trip a world away from the reality of the lives that are waiting for them on the other side of adolescence.

Why is this an important novel for gay men?

While the coming-of-age love story is familiar territory, we don't often get a gay love story from Poland.

There is a sense of melancholy throughout this story - a sense that this was a love that was doomed from the start. That tragic first-love is perhaps something that many of us can identify with.

The connection to James Baldwin is clearly spelled out, but we can also feel the influence of writers such as Christopher Isherwood, and Alan Hollinghurst. Jędrowski's writing feels like it is documenting an important aspect of the queer experience - even if the wistful nostalgia and the heady infatuation are aspirational for most of us.

Naked Men Talking: Book Club

What if we took our clothes off and talked about books?

Naked Men Talking: Book Club
What if we took our clothes off and talked about books?

Naked Men Talking: Events

Book Club is part of the series of events that are presented by Naked Men Talking.

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