SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS is a beautiful, evocative love story set against the backdrop of colonial Nigeria and the civil rights movement in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the late fifties. The writing is rich, the characters are unforgettable, and the descriptions of West Africa are spelling-binding. (The author was raised there—as the daughter of American missionaries.)

The novel tells the story of Tacker Hart, a gentle, white All-American hero, who follows his heart into architecture. After being chosen for a prestigious assignment to help build local schools in Nigeria, he leaves for two years abroad. But he never completes the program. Smitten with the culture, he embraces a new world. A Black world. His sponsors, appalled that he’s ‘gone native’, send him home in disgrace.

The year is 1959, and Tacker no longer feels as if he belongs in the Jim Crow South. Crawling out from depression, he offers to manage a supermarket owned by his father, while figuring out  a path back to architecture.

Managing the store changes his life in unexpected ways. There he crosses paths with Kate, a young white woman, and Gaines, a young African-American man.

Tacker barely remembers Kate from high school, but she remembers him—the football star. She also returned home recently, and is drifting through grief after losing both parents. She has a future as a wife—with her medical student boyfriend—but it’s Tacker who calls to her, along with her lost dream of becoming a photographer.

Meanwhile, Tacker hires Gaines to stock shelves, unaware that he’s active in the civil rights movement.

As friendships bloom between the three characters, Tacker is drawn into the world of sit-ins, but Kate is terrified that the man she’s in love with is mixing with radicals. Tension erupts when Tacker is given the opportunity to design a bath house for the new public swimming pool. His design could be his ticket into the local, elite world of architects, but the pool will be segregated. Does he follow his career or his desire to make the world a better place?

What happens next creates a compelling page-turner.


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