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The Swimmer is one of the very first literary sports novels. Although not a competitive swimmer himself, Mackay was a passionate swimmer and well acquainted with the scene of competitive swimming and diving in Berlin around 1900. This historical picture of the sports world at that time will be familiar to today´s readers in many ways, but may surprise us in its details, for example, of competitions no longer widely practiced, such as "diving for plates" and "swimming with obstacles." For this reason it is a valuable historical document. It is also an exciting sports story with "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."
But The Swimmer is much more: it is a fascinating psychological study of the rise and fall of a champion swimmer in his single-minded pursuit of his sport - and fame. Mackay´s protagonist Franz Felder was "born to swim" and we follow his first, happy dip into the water to his last, fatal plunge. All attention is on young Felder, but other characters are clearly delineated: his wise coach, the equally single-minded sculptor, the seductress from the international demi-monde - last, and alas least, the loyal, devoted fan. The story is told with insight and compassion, as Mackay, the "omniscient narrator," looks into the deepest feelings and motives of his protagonist, whom Mackay´s biographer has described as "an enchanted beast of the fairy tale books, under whose rough exterior is hidden a prince"-a price who "never found the charm that would have brought out his true character." Mackay makes all of this come alive for us, so that we sympathize with Felder even as we perceive the flaws that bring about his downfall.
The book can be read on several levels: as a historical document, a thrilling sports story, a human drama. In every case, it is a good read.
- Xlibris US, January 2002
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