Book Review: Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski
This book, first and foremost, is about a relationship between two men who seemed to be two ships passing each other at sea. Their encounters, though intense, were very brief. Regardless, this slight book left a mark on me. It's the longing that didn't dissipate with the distance, and even the years that separated Ludwik and Janusz. It's also the sadness I felt for a country under a militant rule and people were suffocating from the weight of poverty and communism. Jedrowski's lyrical writing added a sublime nostalgia for what could've been and an ache for a country in chaos.
In Brooklyn, New York, Ludwik hears the declaration of Martial Law in his country of Poland. A country which forced him to leave due to the suffocating rule of Communism. Poland was not a place for someone like him -- a homosexual. But the news brought on a flood of memories that was both idyllic and painful.
Set in 1980, the foreground of the book centers on the waning influence of communism in Poland. We meet the two characters in an Agricultural camp meant to teach the young about hard work. They bonded over James Baldwin's work, Giovanni's Room. What began as a common enjoyment for a piece of illegal literature soon evolved into a heated affair. An affair that's doomed from the start because homosexuality was taboo in a country with strict Catholicism and Communism views.
But while they shared a love affair for the ages, they soon learn of their conflicting political views. While Ludwik dreamed of a democratic Poland, Janusz's believed that the only way for Poland to survive is to adapt to the ruling government. Despite their differences, however, they continue their affair. Like clockwork, however, Janusz broke Ludwik's heart because 'adapting' meant, being in a relationship with a woman.
Ludwik's story continued on as he navigated a life in quiet protest, his life in poverty, lack of medical care for his ailing grandmother, and the frustration of having no choice. The book is short, but it didn't lack for emotional connection between the reader and the narrator. It took me to heights of living through their relationship, and the lows of their downfall. Ludwik had to swallow his pride and Janusz' contact for his passport. The country was in the midst of chaos, but the government was hunting those who they deemed were an 'abomination'.