The First Rule of Swimming
By Courtney Angela Brkic
Little, Brown and Company, 2013
Magdalena and Jadranka Moric, from Rosmarina Island (a fictional island in Croatia), are separated from their cousin Katarina when her parents and an uncle flee the communist regime in the 1970s to seek asylum in the U.S. As adults the cousins reconnect and Jadranka, a talented painter who is not settled in her island life, moves to New York City to spend time with Katarina, also an artist, and a gallery owner, and her family. When Jadranka goes missing in New York, Magdalena is pulled from her solitary island existence and travels to the US to find her sister and learn about her family.
This is well-crafted, multi-generational story. The writing is beautiful. And although the sisters are the main focus of the story, the book chronicles three generations of the Moric family, from the sisters to their aging grandparents. It took me a few chapters to settle in to the story, and all the characters, but once I did, I was drawn to both Magdalena and Jadranka. Magdalena is the settled older sister, who is single and a teacher on the island. Jadranka is the wilder soul. The story bounces back and forth between their lives in present day Croatia and New York, while also gracefully flashing back in time, telling the story of the girls growing up, their mother’s story, their uncle’s story (and why he left Croatia) and their grandparents’ stories during World War II. This book is a moving portrait of how a family’s history impacts multiple generations. It also describes the trauma many contemporary immigrants go through before they move to the US.
Brkic has published a collection of short stories and a memoir. She has won multiple awards for her writing and teaches at George Mason University. This is her first novel.
I received an e-book copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.