Review: Swimmer Among the Stars by Kanishk Tharoor

swimmeramongthestarsAbout Swimmer Among the Stars

• Hardcover: 256 pages
• Published: March 2017 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
• Source:

Goodreads DescriptionIn one of the singularly imaginative stories from Kanishk Tharoor’s Swimmer Among the Stars, despondent diplomats entertain themselves by playing table tennis in zero gravity—for after rising seas destroy Manhattan, the United Nations moves to an orbiting space hotel. In other tales, a team of anthropologists treks to a remote village to record a language’s last surviving speaker intoning her native tongue; an elephant and his driver cross the ocean to meet the whims of a Moroccan princess; and Genghis Khan’s marauding army steadily approaches an unnamed city’s walls.

With exuberant originality and startling vision, Tharoor cuts against the grain of literary convention, drawing equally from ancient history and current events. His world-spanning stories speak to contemporary challenges of environmental collapse and cultural appropriation, but also to the workings of legend and their timeless human truths. Whether refashioning the romances of Alexander the Great or confronting the plight of today’s refugees, Tharoor writes with distinctive insight and remarkable assurance. Swimmer Among the Stars announces the arrival of a vital, enchanting talent.

Why Swimmer Among the Stars?

I’m really enjoying short story collections lately. They’re nice because you can read one or two at a time, set the book down, and come back to it later without losing too much. And, most of the short stories I’ve read lately have been somewhat thought-provoking, so in between reading them I’m mulling them over in my head. I’ve found some of them stick with me, some don’t, but I’m enjoying the experience nonetheless. This is new for me – I used to be anti-short story for some bizarre reason.

My Thoughts

Swimmer Among the Stars is a collection of poetic, snarky short stories. Why snarky? Because on the surface, they’re often kind of nonsense, or at the least, silly. You can read them at face value and simply get a goofy little plot, like the diplomats playing tennis in zero gravity. But there’s more to each story if you simply think a little deeper – for example, the diplomats are in zero gravity because the world is dying. They’re mourning the loss of Earth, the result of human carelessness and technological advancement. It’s a warning tale, of a sorts.

Most of the stories are like that – sure, not all contain warnings, but all offer some insight into the past, present, or future. This is the kind of collection that would be perfect for a college course – choosing one or two stories to discuss in depth. Or even a book club, though again, I think you’d have to stick to one or two; otherwise, there’s simply too much to take in.

I think my favorite was the title story, Swimmer Among the Stars. It’s poignant and lovely, and I keep thinking about the line, “Humans always lose more history than they ever possess.”

Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?

3 stars

Huge thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC. All opinions are my own.

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