Thursday, June 21, 2018

Swimming Between Worlds

Title:  Swimming Between Worlds
Author:  Elaine Neil Orr
Publication Information:  Penguin Group. 2018. 416 pages.

ISBN:  0425282732 / 978-0425282731

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Early mornings on the university compound were quiet as the dawn of the world."

Favorite Quote:  "This seemed, finally, the clear truth of the camera:  that the eye sees what it expects to see ... Unless the eye is corrected, all vision is lost."

The 1960s in the United States were a tumultuous time. It was a time of cultural and political revolution. There were heated debate about equality across gender, sexual orientation, and in particular about race. The South was still deeply embedded in its cultural of segregation. This book sets the story of three young people - Tacker, Kate, and Gaines - in this time in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Tacker is a local high school sports hero. A job takes him to Ibadan, Nigeria. He comes home, seemingly disgraced. His "crime" is breaking the social constructs set up by the company he worked for. He comes home, alone and unsure of his place in his own world. His views have changed, but his world has not.

Kate is a young woman, adrift by the loss of her family. Yet, she is financially independent and able to pursue life as she chooses. Yet, that security may be based on a history that puts into question her right to use that security.

Tacker and Kate are white. Gaines is a young man just like them. He is attempting to work hard for his family and to find his way in the world. Gaines, however, is black. Unfortunately, that alone is enough to put Tacker, Kate, and Gaines worlds apart.

This book through its characters presents the fight for equality that has always and still continues to exist in the United States. There is a lot going on in this book. The story is primarily from Tacker's perspective. It narrates the "present day" story and also presents snapshots of Tacker's time in Nigeria. As such, it shows his growth and the changes in his views when his horizons grows beyond his home town. Kate's perspective is still from that home town; as she gets to know Tacker, she begins to question her own beliefs. This book is about their change in world views.

Gaines and his family and friends are the context of Tacker and Kate's thoughts on the divisions in the South. Tacker and Kate are the ones trying to bridge the paradigms they were raised with against their own thoughts about what is right. These are the worlds they "swim between." However, I don't feel that Gaines' perspective is portrayed as well;  his interactions with Tacker and Kate depict the changes the two undergo. Perhaps, depicting Gaines' perspective is not the objective, but it does make him seem like a lesser character in the book. In a book about equality, that is unfortunate.

This is the first book I have read by Elaine Neil Orr, and her background explains both the topic and the settings. Ms. Orr's parents were medical missionary; she was born and raised in Nigeria on one of their mission. She came the United States at age sixteen. She studied and now lives in the South. She is a Southern writer with an African background taking on the history of racism in the South.  Regardless, a book that confronts the history of racism in the United States and propels the conversation forward as it continues even today is an important one to read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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