Not to be Overlooked
By Sandhya Christine Theodore and Gurnish Kaur
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski and And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.
Tomasz Jedrowski – Swimming in the Dark
Ludwik, a Polish immigrant in the US, is following the news of the tumultuous political situation ahead of the Polish People’s Republic’s collapse in the 1980s. The novel is written in the form of a letter from Ludwik to his former lover in Poland, Janusz. Through Ludwik, Jedrowski tells a coming-of-age story about queer love and political unrest.
Swimming in the Dark is a queer love story that begins at an agricultural labour camp in rural Poland. A contraband copy of Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin ends up sparking a whirlwind romance with Poland’s gorgeous wilderness as its backdrop. But when Ludwik and Janusz return to the city, the sociopolitical landscape in the country begins to put pressure on the relationship they created in their private paradise. The novel takes us through incidents of protests, police brutality, economic imbalance and corruption.
Despite being set five decades in the past, the story is still painfully familiar. It stirs up universal feelings of helplessness against the powers of societal structures and expectations. The novel was published in 2020, just a year after numerous areas in Poland were declared “LGBT-free zones” that would be free from “LGBT ideologies.” While a top court has since ruled that these zones must be scrapped, they remain evidence of the discrimination queer people continue to face in the country and around the world. Swimming in the Dark gives a highly personal account of the confusion and shame that so many queer people around the world experience.
The novel is beautifully written with seemingly flesh-and-blood characters, nostalgia-inducing descriptions and a soundtrack woven into the story. Jedrowski’s prose draws readers in as he tells a passionate love story that becomes a melancholic story of conflict and hurt. The author has expertly blended a Call Me By Your Name-esque romance and historical perspectives into a heart-wrenching novel. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a charming, emotional book to cry a few tears to.
Khaled Hosseini – And the Mountains Echoed
And the Mountains Echoed is the third novel written by Afghan-American, Khaled Hosseini. This author is not new to the literary world and is widely known for his other works such as A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner. I have now read all three novels and I can say without a doubt how powerful Hosseini’s storytelling is across all three. Many will know Hosseini through A Thousand Splendid Suns, but I would like to shine some light on And the Mountains Echoed which has won the Goodreads Choice for Fiction and the Paris Review Best of Best for 2013.
The multigenerational novel spans over three continents and over half a century. The story begins in rural Afghanistan, following the journey of Abdullah and his sister Pari as they tackle poverty, family, new beginnings and war. Hosseini’s writing in this particular novel expands the perspective across different characters, each having their own chapter while interlocking into each other’s lives. As readers, we read different perspectives and they each have their own story – but the separation of the two siblings Abdullah and Pari is the “heart of the book.”
Before Hosseini introduces the characters that tell the story of Pari and Abdullah the novel opens with a folk tale. The folk tale focuses on a “div,” a monster that raids small Afghan villages to steal children. The father in the folk tale seeks revenge and wants to kill the “div” until he realises his son is living a great luxury and is happy. He must then decide either to leave his son and never see him again or take him back to the struggling life in the village.
I include this tale to praise Hosseini’s great method of foreshadowing as we soon realise how prevalent this story is to Abdullah and Pari’s life.
A theme I wholeheartedly loved, and thought was beautifully executed by Hosseini was the unbreakable bond of siblings – the unconditional love between a brother and sister was portrayed with great depth and was truly heart-wrenching. Hosseini knows how to marry history and storytelling together without dismissing either one. He has not failed in the past and he has not failed now.
Fans of A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner will not be disappointed, and I hope more people start to appreciate And The Mountains Echoed as much as they do the other two novels.