Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski

Swimming in the Dark is a love story set in Communist era Poland, in which two young men meet one summer at agricultural camp, but then must return to the realities of the city. Ludwik is just graduating university and is worried about the future, both his and the country’s. When he meets Janusz they spend time adventuring through forests, swimming in lakes, and falling in love, but then they must return to Warsaw and their very different takes on their own lives.

This is a short, captivating novel that combines a love affair with the grim realities of living somewhere where people can’t get enough food, can’t get a doctor’s appointment, and where bribes and ‘contacts’ are how you get anywhere. It gives an insight into Poland’s history, but also a very personal look into a character full of anxieties and disillusionment. The narrative is told with hindsight, a classic method with a story of love and sacrifice, but the time gap is short so it feels more like reflection after the fact than looking back with nostalgia. Jedrowski combines a lot of detail and elements into a concise narrative that really focuses on Ludwik.

Swimming in the Dark is a Cold War era love story about life in a Communist country and realising you make very different choices even to someone you love. Readers will likely be drawn in by the love story, but then also get caught up in the tension and detail of the setting.