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"The Swimmers": Julie Otsuka's tale of lost routines, lost memory

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Julie Otsuka is a Guggenheim Fellow and the author of three award-winning novels. Her first, "When the Emperor Was Divine" (2002), was honored with the Asian American Literary Award and the American Library Association Alex Award. Her second novel, "The Buddha in the Attic," won the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Her new novel, "The Swimmers," was awarded the American Library Association's 2023 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Born and raised in California, Otsuka now lives in New York City. (photo by Jean-Luc Bertini/cover Penguin Random House)

Today on Midday, Tom's guest is the award-winning novelist, Julie Otsuka.

She has published three critically acclaimed novels. Her first, When the Emperor Was Divine was published in 2002, and over the past 20 years, it has been chosen by more than 60 colleges and universities as a “campus reads” book, in which everyone at those institutions reads and discusses it.

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When the Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Otsuka, was published in 2002 by Penguin Random House

In 2022, that same book was banned by the Muskego-Norway school district in Wisconsin.

Julie Otsuka’s second novel is about Japanese “picture brides,” who came to America in the early 20th century to wed men they had never met in person. It’s called The Buddha in the Attic, and it won the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and it was a finalist for the National Book Award.

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The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka, was published in 2012 by Anchor Books/Random House

Her latest novel, published last year, is calledThe SwimmersThe story concerns a group of people who swim at a community pool regularly, and what happens when that pool develops a crack that no one can seem to explain. It’s also about dementia, and the complicated relationship between a mother and her daughter. And it’s about multitudes more.

The American Library Association awarded it the 2023 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

Julie Otsuka is an artist who writes with power, elegance, and compassion, and The Swimmers is further testament to her extraordinary talents.

Ms. Otsuka joins Tom on Zoom from her home in New York City.


Julie Otsuka will deliver the keynote address,
"An American Story: War, Memory and Erasure,” at Loyola University Maryland’s 2023 Humanities Symposium.

The address takes place this Thursday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m., in McGuire Hall (at the Andrew White Student Center) 4501 North Charles St., Baltimore, Md. 21210.

The event is is free and open to the general public as well as to the region’s academic communities.
To register for the event, click here.

The address will be followed by a book signing with Ms. Otsuka, with books available for purchase.

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Host, Midday (M-F 12:00-1:00)
Teria is a Supervising Producer on Midday.
Rob is Midday's senior producer.