It’s summer behind the Iron Curtain, and six girls begin a journey to the Olympics. But will they return?
In a stateless place, on the wrong side of a river separating East from West, six girls meet each day to swim. At first, they play, splashing each other and floating languidly on the water’s surface. But as summer draws to an end, the game becomes something more.
They hone their bodies relentlessly. Their skin shades into bruises. They barter cigarettes stolen from the factory where they work for swimsuits to stretch over their sunburnt skin. They tear their legs into splits, flick them back and forth, like herons. They master holding their breath underwater.
Then, one day, it finally happens: their visas arrive. But can what’s waiting on the other side of the river satisfy their longing for a different kind of life?
Praise for The Union of Synchronized Swimmers:
“Cristina Sandu’s spare and sparkling prose is intimate and visceral. A deeply moving story about six women who dare to dream bigger than their muddy river, whose lives splinter from their tight synchronized formations into an unflinching, often unforgiving world. An exquisite and powerful read.” —Lindsay Zier-Vogel, author of Letters to Amelia
“With structural, determined prose, Cristina Sandu embodies the Eastern bloc cryptology of storytelling where strings of non-verbal cues and mistranslations become ways of speaking. Sandu evokes that eerie Soviet sense of hope, brimming with futility and grace.” —Yelena Moskovich, author of The Natashas
“Skilfully crafted and defined, airy, and multi-layered. Highly praised for the themes of detachment as well as the description of externality and differentness. A work greater than its size gives a chance to pause, feel, and reflect on what one has read.” —2020 Toisinkoinen Literary Prize Jury Citation
Video: Cristina Sandu Introduces Her First Canadian Novel, The Union of Synchronized Swimmers, on a Sunny Helsinki Evening —Open Book
Character Study: The Union of Synchronized Swimmers —All Lit Up
Read an Excerpt from Finnish Sensation Cristina Sandu’s The Union of Synchronized Swimmers —Open Book
In conversation with Cristina Sandu —Avocado Diaries
Cristina Sandu was born in 1989 in Helsinki to a Finnish-Romanian family who loved books. She studied literature at the University of Helsinki and the University of Edinburgh and speaks six languages. She currently lives in the UK and works as a full-time writer. Her debut novel, The Whale Called Goliath (2017), was nominated for the Finlandia Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in Finland. The Union of Synchronized Swimmers, which won the 2020 Toisinkoinen Literary Prize, is her first book to be published in English.