Julie Otsuka won a (much-deserved) Carnegie Medal!

Katie Yee

January 30, 2023, 1:44pm

Yesterday, the American Library Association announced the winners of the 2023 Carnegie Medals for Excellence. In fiction, the winner was Julie Otsuka for her most recent novel, The Swimmers.

This brilliant book starts out at a community pool; it invites us into the rhythms of its inhabitants, lulls us into their routines—and then shocks us when a crack mysteriously appears at the bottom of this shared sanctuary. Cast out into the world, one swimmer in particular—Alice—is lost without this dependable, daily haven. She plunges instead into the depths of dementia, and we follow her through her memories of the Japanese American incarceration, which happened during her childhood. In typical Julie Otsuka fashion, the story is told through a collective, enchanting “we,” which changes with every section: the “we” of the swimming pool, the “we” of the eldercare facility where Alice’s estranged daughter brings her. It’s heartbreaking with small moments of humor.

Of this book, the chair of the selection committee, Stephen Sposato, said: “Julie Otsuka proves herself a master of narrative voice, thrillingly balancing the incredible vitality of community life with the myriad challenges faced by individuals and families within that community.”

As a long-time Julie Otsuka stan, I am overjoyed that she is getting the recognition that she so deserves. Personally, I’d recommend starting off with The Buddha in the Attic and then making your way over to When the Emperor Was Divine—which was banned from a tenth-grade English class’ curriculum in Wisconsin just a few months ago. Not that they’re a series or anything. Truthfully, you can read them in any order. Just dive in!

[via Publishers Weekly]

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