The Swimmer

Written by Zsuzsa Bank
Review by Marcia K. Matthews

Bank writes in an understated style, using poignant details to relate a story of abandonment. Kata and her brother Isti are small children in 1956 when their mother boards a train from Hungary to the West. Their father finds release in wandering and swimming far out in the deep lake. Each remaining family member threatens to desert the others. Lyrical vignettes give depth to the episodes when the three stay with relatives and friends. Left to their own devices, the children spend time at the railroad station, and trains become a trope for change and motion that happen on schedule. They comfort themselves by memorizing the timetable.

A series of events beyond her control affects Kata’s life. While waiting for her mother to come back, she develops attachments, making new friends when she has little to offer and little to gain. Conflict comes from the reader’s anger at the irresponsible people whose thoughtless, selfish and cruel deeds make Hansel and Gretel’s parents look good.

The boundaries of family relationships are strained to the breaking point, yet beauty and joy survive. “A train station is the best place for a new beginning,” and also to do a lot of waiting. This book helped me understand what children go through when parents break up. It’s an impressive literary milestone for a young author.