The violent history of postwar Croatia, from 1945 until the turn of the millennium, created three generations of dislocated people…Courtney Angela Brkic conveys all these dislocations with empathy and poetic grace…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
Two sisters from a remote Croatian...Magdalena, the elder sister and a schoolteacher, leads a Spartan, practically celibate...while Jadranka is an unpredictable redhead.... When the sisters' American cousin Katarina unexpectedly invites Jadranka to live in New York City, several generations' worth of secrets begin to unravel... Brkic juggles too many perspectives and gets bogged down in back-story, when the present-day action and the fraught triangle between the sisters and their estranged mother Ana is what is most absorbing.
Brkic's a special writer whose works hit me right in the heart.... So take a good look at her first novel, whose heroine must set out to New York from the remote Croatian island where she lives to find her free-spirited sister. Instead, she uncovers some family darkness. In-house raves.
(Starred review.) 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
Magdalena is...content to remain a spinster schoolteacher [on her remote Croatian island]. 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...affirming[s] the power of love and forgiveness...but...remind[s] us that...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.
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