When university student Ludwik meets Janusz at a summer agricultural camp, he is fascinated yet wary of this handsome, carefree stranger. A chance meeting by the river soon becomes an intense, exhilarating, and all-consuming affair. But in their repressive communist and Catholic society, the passion they share is utterly unthinkable. Their secret love and personal and political differences slowly begin to tear them apart as both men struggle to survive in a regime on the brink of collapse.
Politics and intimacy collide constantly in Tomasz Jedrowski’s enthralling debut, which locates Ludwik and Janusz’s search for sexual and emotional liberty against a wider backdrop of a country struggling to define its own identity ... Although the novel’s moral compass is always clear—we remain firmly on Ludwik’s side, constantly hoping that he will stick to his principles and find a way to forge a safe, lasting relationship with Janusz—it manages never to be judgemental. Decisions that might feel like betrayals in a different context come across as simple acts of survival; and kindness often emerges in the most unexpected situations ... Jedrowski...uses a combination of precise plotting and careful slips in time to stretch the action of that single, fateful summer into a portrait of a country trying to come to terms with its past.
Swimming in the Dark has all the ingredients of the best coming-of-age gay love stories, but with its 1980s Eastern Bloc setting providing enough edginess to make it feel entirely original. Ludwik and Janusz’s arguments about opposing political systems are as relevant today as they were back then ... Jedrowski’s writing is elegant and compelling, and the revelations when they come are heartbreaking. I wallowed in all this book’s melancholy beauty, and will now keep it on my shelves alongside novels by Alan Hollinghurst, Edmund White and other classics in the gay canon.
This gay romance between two Polish boys living under Communist rule is as grand and gorgeously written, as passionate, as shot through with melancholy as anything by Edmund White or Alan Hollinghurst ... Swimming in the Dark is bound to become a queer literary classic, and its rather sweeping political dimension breaks new ground in the genre.