Book*hug’s Active Listening series invites authors to create playlists for their books, and offers them a space to draw parallels between the two. Why is this song a perfect match for the book? Why is this song essential to listen to in order to understand it? These are questions that Active Listening is interested in answering.
Our series continues with Cristina Sandu’s The Union of Synchronized Swimmers, translated from the Finnish by Cristina Sandu. The Union of Synchronized Swimmers follows six girls behind the Iron Curtain who meet each day to swim. At first, they play, but as summer draws to an end, the game becomes something more. They hone their bodies relentlessly; they barter cigarettes stolen from the factory where they work for swimsuits to stretch over their sunburnt skin; they master holding their breath underwater. One day, their visas arrive, but can what’s waiting on the other side of the river satisfy their longing for a different kind of life?
“Cristina Sandu’s spare and sparkling prose is intimate and visceral,” writes Lindsay Zier-Vogel, author of the forthcoming Letters to Amelia. “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.” In its native Finland, The Union of Synchronized Swimmers won the 2020 Toisinkoinen Literary Prize, an award given to an exceptional second novel. The Toisinkoinen Literary Prize jury calls the book “[s]killfully crafted and defined, airy, and multi-layered.”
We asked Cristina to create an official The Union of Synchronized Swimmers playlist, which you can find and enjoy below. Each song is a kind of “theme music” for one of the six girls:
Sandra: “Motion Sickness” by Phoebe Bridgers
Paulina: “Cold Little Heart” by Michael Kiwanuka
Betty: “Cotidiano” by Chico Buarque
Nina: “In the Musicals” by Björk
Lidia: “Petit pays” by Cesária Evora
Anita: “You Want It Darker” by Leonard Cohen
If you prefer to listen while reading the book, which we highly recommend, The Union of Synchronized Swimmers is available to order from our online shop, or from your local independent bookstore. As part of our celebration of Women in Translation Month, we’re offering 20% off all books written and translated by women, including The Union of Synchronized Swimmers. The sale ends on August 30th, at 11:59 p.m. EST.
Enjoy the playlist!
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. 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.