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Books About Swimming Shift Perspectives

By: Alina Zheng

On the outside, fish fantasizing about becoming Olympic swimmers and Olympic swimmers imagining they are fish may seem odd.

However, in Swimmers by Mariana Alcántara and María José Ferrada, the authors use quirky text and vivid images to convey the idea that water is an environment of enjoyment and possibility. In the book, a clock is immersed halfway in a fishbowl, fish are in swimsuits and swimmers have fins, showing that there is a connection between the aquatic world and our society.

“The fish all wake up at the same time, just when they’ve finished the 150-meter race. Even though it’s never a dream they want to wake up from, they aren’t sad. … It’s a dream that has been dreamed by fish since the world was the world and the sea was the sea, and it always will be.”

In The Summer of Diving, Sara Stridsberg, a notable Swedish novelist and playwright, features Zoe as a young girl, who is conflicted because she can’t imagine her life any different and is struggling with understanding her surroundings, causing her to depend on swimming as a source of escape. One day, Zoe realizes her father has suddenly disappeared. “A long time passes before I find out where he’s gone. Maybe everyone else has known all along.” The book also emphasizes the common childhood feeling that “no one tells you anything.” After living in a state of unsureness for several days, she finds out her father is suffering from severe depression when visiting the hospital with her mother.

While Zoe watches the sadness that holds her dad back, a woman named Sabina appears, wearing a blue bathrobe over a red swimsuit, and asks Zoe if she wants to swim. Even though there isn’t a pool or sea, Zoe imagines herself swimming.

Days turn into seasons, and the bond between Sabina and Zoe becomes stronger. Soon Zoe finds herself under the care and nurture of Sabina, who visits Zoe even when her father is too depressed to interact with her.

During spring, Sabina and Zoe practice diving from a park bench and swimming strokes on the grass. Zoe tells us in the book “When my dad finally comes, Sabina and I have swum around the world a few times. My dad is like the trees. In the winter he pretends to be dead.

Then he is reborn in the summer.” Stridsberg’s portrayal of a child’s perspective on mental illness shows the knowledge gaps, children can make unlikely friendships, and memories of the past may carry into adulthood.

Alcántara and Stridsberg’s books shift perspectives and give people a detailed look at swimming’s potential to interact with the world in unconventional ways.

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