Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: The First Rule of Swimming

The First Rule of Swimming
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.
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Publication Date: May 28, 2013

Kat's Review

This novel is a work of art, from the cover right through to the epilogue.  It's not a fast paced story, packed with action and adventure.  It starts off slow, laying out the key players and setting the scene, before building up to present.  It's obvious from the start that there are secrets waiting to be unraveled; secrets that threaten to tear Magdalena's family apart.  The problem is, no one is willing to lay those secrets on the table, to put together all the missing pieces of the puzzle that could finally put all the pain behind them. 

While it's not necessary to have a complete understanding of the recent history of war in Croatia to understand the story, it does help the reader understand some of the decisions that were made by some members of Magdalena's family when she was a child.  Military service, secret spies, threats, undercover deals, secrets, lies- all in order to protect each other, but ultimately only causing more pain.  As Magdalena tries desperately to hold on to the life on Rosmarina that she's always wanted, Jadranka is counting down the hours until her escape.  Unlike her sister, Jadranka has never felt at home on the island, and is determined to set out and solve some of the mysteries that have plagued her family for years. 

I adored this story.  It touches on so many areas of life, from the mundane to the extraordinary.  What seems like the story of a simple family living by the sometimes stifling rules of a small, contained island community is actually a bigger tale about loyalty, love, hate, and the effects of war long after the actual threat has retreated.  I could identify with some of the traditions, even though I'm not of Croatian descent.  The friction between the sisters, despite their fierce love for each other was also familiar.  Two distinct personalities trying to find their unique places in the family fold, each going about it in her own way.

Rating: All Consuming

This is a novel to be savoured.  I never wanted it to end, and yet I felt that it finished exactly where it was meant to end.  It provided enough information to satisfy my curiosity without extending the book another hundred pages to draw it all out in detail.  Courtney Brkic is a talented writer, deftly moving from past to present without losing the flow or pace of the story along the way.  Highly recommended.

I was provided a complimentary copy of this title in return for an honest review.

Purchase:  AMAZON


  1. You have convinced me. I have added it to my TBR pile. I'm hoping to get to it this summer.

    Kay @ It's a Book Life

    1. Glad to hear it! I go through a lot of fast reads, but this one I let myself get lost in. Thanks for stopping by!


Thoughts? Questions? Let me know what you think!