Why We Swim: A love letter to swimming, crammed with facts and personal stories

Book review: Bonnie Tsui looks at swimming culture and skill with a memoir-like quality

Why We Swim is a book for swimming nerds, but also for anyone with an interest in water. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Why We Swim is a book for swimming nerds, but also for anyone with an interest in water. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

It’s quite late into this kaleidoscopic exploration of why human beings are drawn to water that Bonnie Tsui lets slip that she saved a child from drowning in her years as a teenage lifeguard. “Those eyes, underwater, big as dinner plates,” she remembers, of the seconds when she successfully located and saved the child in the crowded murk of a summer pool.

On the deck, the youngster’s family quickly told Tsui that the little girl couldn’t swim. Tsui gently asked her why she jumped in if she didn’t know how to swim. “But I know the answer now,” she writes after decades of following what is close to an obsession with swimming. “Blue: the colour of where you are not.”

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