×

Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The First Rule of Swimming
     

The First Rule of Swimming

3.6 5
by Courtney Angela Brkic
 

See All Formats & Editions

A woman must leave her island home to search for her missing sister-and confront the haunted history of her family.

Magdalena does not panic when she learns that her younger sister has disappeared. A free-spirit, Jadranka has always been prone to mysterious absences. But when weeks pass with no word, Magdalena leaves the isolated Croatian island where

Overview

A woman must leave her island home to search for her missing sister-and confront the haunted history of her family.

Magdalena does not panic when she learns that her younger sister has disappeared. A free-spirit, Jadranka has always been prone to mysterious absences. But when weeks pass with no word, Magdalena leaves the isolated Croatian island where their family has always lived and sets off to New York to find her sister. Her search begins to unspool the dark history of their family, reaching back three generations to a country torn by war.

A haunting and sure-footed debut by an award-winning writer, The First Rule of Swimming explores the legacy of betrayal and loss in a place where beauty is fused inextricably with hardship, and where individuals are forced to make wrenching choices as they are swept up in the tides of history.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
The bonds of kinship and homeland confine but endure in this debut novel from short story author and memoirist Brkic (The Stone Fields, 2004, etc.). Magdalena is so attached to Rosmarina, the remote Croatian island that is her family's ancestral home, that she could not leave it even for her true love, Damir, a journalist who now roams the globe without her. She was so traumatized by the dreadful year she and her younger sister Jadranka spent on the mainland with their mother, Ana, and her brutal second husband that she is content to remain a spinster schoolteacher and tend her aging grandparents. But the disappearance of Jadranka, a gifted artist who had gone to visit a cousin in New York City, prompts her sister to begin an odyssey that uncovers some ugly secrets about their family and the agonized history of the former Yugoslavia. Brkic's well-crafted narrative intersperses Magdalena's quest with the memories of both sisters, as well as those of their dying grandfather, a partisan during World War II, and of Ana and her brother Marin, who fled to America with the cousin's family during the oppressive heyday of Yugoslavia's communist regime. We learn fairly soon that Magdalena's father may have committed suicide after learning of Ana's infidelity with a feared local policeman, but it will take the rest of the novel for a tangled web of loyalty and betrayals to unravel enough to reveal the complex motivations behind these acts and many others. The final chapters feature several moving reconciliations affirming the power of love and forgiveness to overcome long-festering traumas, but the closing pages quietly remind us that such reunions can't necessarily heal every wound or change a person's destiny. A few unnecessarily melodramatic plot twists only slightly mar a sensitive tale of deep emotional force.
From the Publisher
"With empathy and poetic grace....Layers of the family's history slip away and truth—-involving betrayal, thwarted love, and ultimately reconciliation—-is shiningly revealed....The First Rule of Swimming examines lives bruised and twisted by history, like weather-beaten trees that nevertheless manage to produce the sweetest fruit."
—-Brooke Allen, New York Times Book Review"

Suspenseful....Brkic traces three generations of family history, revealing the wounds of war, exile, and betrayal. The revelations are well paced, and Brkic deftly walks the line between the sentimental and the intimate. The novel draws its narrative force from the characters' desire to protect family and to survive at all costs."
—-The New Yorker"

In her exquisitely crafted, superbly structured novel, Brkic summons undertones of Greek tragedy to create her arresting characters and their intense emotions and dire secrets. By dramatizing nuanced questions of who is at fault, who can be trusted, and who will sink or swim, Brkic reveals persistent, multigenerational wounds of war, sacrifice, exile, and longing and imagines how healing might commence."
—-Donna Seaman, Booklist [starred review]"

A sensitive tale of deep emotional force."
—-Kirkus"

This compact, beautiful novel of two island sisters deftly explores what it is to love a place, a person, and the lengths to which one will go to defend them. Brkic is adept at depicting both the timeless paradise of the island, Rosmarina, and the way its brutal history has scarred a family for generations."
—-Janet Fitch, author of Paint It Black and White Oleander"

Courtney Angela Brkic seamlessly negotiates past and present, silence and secrets, to reveal one family's enduring love-as profound and as perilous as the sea surrounding their island home. With beautiful images and characters that are vividly real, The First Rule of Swimming is a delicately written work of art, about history and memories and the grief at their fading and loss."
—-Daphne Kalotay, author of Russian Winter and Sight Reading"

Between the dazzling light of an Adriatic island and the gritty streets of New York City, an intriguing world of possibilities - past, present and future - arises. Part-mystery and part-family saga, The First Rule of Swimming explores the variety of ways in which the physical and psychological landscape of a place can be altered forever by politics and immigration."
—-Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day and Property"

Think of your most cherished memory. Now think of your saddest memory. What if the two were so connected to each other that one couldn't exist without the other? You'd have to find a way to forge forward, containing the pain and beauty, both. And you'd find a way. Because you must. And Courtney Angela Brkic's tender and tough novel The First Rule of Swimming could be your guide. In which case, you'd be in the best of hands."
—-Joshua Furst, author of The Sabotage Café and Short People"

Brkic is a shimmering talent. She writes with precision and power about three generations of a family caught in a cycle of war, sacrifice, love, and loyalty. Brkic's portrayal of the family's brutal, mysterious transformation is held in perfect tension, and tenderly told in language that is as fluid and crystal-clear as the island seascape around which the story revolves. The thing that perhaps stays most with me about this book is its heart: vulnerable, resilient, generous."
—-Mei Ng, author of Eating Chinese Food Naked

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316217378
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
05/28/2013
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
1,093,638
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author

Courtney Angela Brkic is the author of Stillness: And Other Stories---named a 2003 Best Book by the Chicago Tribune, a Notable Book by the New York Times, and a Barnes&Noble Discover pick. Her memoir The Stone Fields was shortlisted for the Freedom of Expression Award by the Index on Censorship. Brkic has been the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches in the MFA program at George Mason University, and lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

The First Rule of Swimming: A Novel 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
MaryAnn_Koopmann More than 1 year ago
Courtney Angela Brkic seamlessly negotiates past and present, silence and secrets, to reveal one family's enduring love-as profound and as perilous as the sea surrounding their island home. With beautiful images and characters that are vividly real, The First Rule of Swimming is a delicately written work of art, about history and memories and the grief at their fading and loss. I loved this book! I could hardly put the book down. A must read for anyone who loves a good mystery. After starting with the first chapter I realized that it was something I was going to enjoy. The leisurely pacing let me get to know the characters, so when the action started I cared about how they would react. The settings were interesting, and I liked the way there were little mysteries dropped in along the way that all came together eventually. Several of the plot developments surprised me, which is always good. I found the conclusion pretty satisfying. This is the first book I've read by this author, but it won't be the last.
lsmeadows More than 1 year ago
The First Rule of Swimming is the debut novel by author Courtney Angela Brkic. The title quote of the book comes from Luka, the patriarch of a Croatian family from the island of Rosmarina, "the first rule of swimming....is to stay afloat" is what he tells each successive generation as he teaches them to survive in the waters around the island. This is a very fitting metaphor for the book as a whole as Luka's family has been trying to do just that...stay afloat despite all of the turmoil and changes happening in Croatia and in their family.  The book centers on Luka's two granddaughters. The oldest of the two, Magdalena, loves everything about Rosmarina and is content to live her life their in much the same way that her family has for generations. She is the old, traditional Croatia. Jadranka, on the other hand, is a free spirit who has never quite fit in on Rosmarina or the old ways.  Through the interactions of the two sisters, both with each other, and with other members of their family, a picture of the family begins to emerge.  It is through this picture that we learn about the choices each member has made, and just how much they have all done to survive.   The story of Magdalena, Jadranka, and their family was an enjoyable read.  Unfortunately, I thought the story was a bit uneven.  The parts of the story that took place in Croatia, especially those that were set on the island of Rosmarina, were mesmerizing.  This is where the author definitely warmed to her subject.  Her descriptions of the island and it's inhabitants were very poetic and lyrical.  The parts of the story that took place in the US, though also enjoyable,  did not seem to me to be of the same caliber.  Here the story was more in line with the average fare of many contemporary novels.  In addition, although the ending fit the book well, there were no huge revelations or spectacular outcomes.   The same can be said of the characters.  By far the most interesting characters were those that lived in Croatia.   By far Magdalena was the character that I was able to connect with the most.  Luka was another one and I especially liked what the author did with his character later in the book.  Here the descriptions of feelings and life were the most vivid and interesting.  Of the US characters, Marin was my favorite as he seemed to get the most detail and therefore was the most interesting.  I would have liked to see the author do a bit more with Jadranka and some of the other characters, though.   All in all, I thought this was a good effort for a debut novel.  It was an enjoyable read with interesting characters and a story that was at times mesmerizing, but on the whole interesting.  I would definitely like to read more by this author, especially if she is writing about life in Croatia, or in Croatian settlements in the US.  A job well done for a first book and I would give it 3.5 stars.  Thanks to Little, Brown and Company and Netgalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my review. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a let down for me. I loved ths story line but in parts of the book it seemed hurried-like the author was rushing to meet a deadline and had to skip over some wonderful details that could of made this book awesome. And at times some of the events were a little unbelievable. I enjoyed the book but I wish I had borrowed it from our local library rather than pay for it.
RobertDowns More than 1 year ago
THE FIRST RULE OF SWIMMING: stay afloat. Easier said than done when I hovered beneath the depths of prose, and searched for my bubbles on my way toward the surface, popping above the water and gasping for air. More often than not, I drowned, swallowing seawater, my lungs filling, my eyes popping out of my head, my clothes drenched, as I ended up entrenched with the sharks and a stingray. But I did see a blowfish explode, and I tried to blow my nose underwater—it didn’t work—and I coughed my way to the surface, barely making it to the top. What kept me treading water was the writing. But what smacked me over the head was elongated prose, a world filled with bastard characters, loose threads, and strangled sensations that had me traipsing through time. Needless to say, this book probably came at the wrong time, along with being more than a tad too ambitious in 337 pages. Instead, of punching through my psyche, it ripped me in about six different pieces, none of which seemed to lead the charge. How would you like to phrase the answer, Alex? Maybe we’ll call it a historical, psychological, literary, contemporary women, domestic thriller. And if you figure out what the frick that is, please let me know, because I honestly don’t have a clue. What might have been this book’s greatest sin of all, though, was once I finished it, I promptly forgot it. And not just a slight memory lapse either. By the time I reached the end, the whole damn book might have been nothing more than a figment of my imagination. Robert Downs Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written story about tragedy and resilience. I was moved by how artfully the author captured the decline of the grandfather, and how he experienced events going on around him, along with all the other threads of the story. She also succeeds in capturing the setting as both a place of stunning scenery and of tragic history. I was captivated by the characters, especially Luka. Highly recommend.