The First Rule of Swimming
For Magdalena Babic and her family, home is
Rosmarina—a cloistered Croatian island that matches their "heart’s
circumference" but whose government is controlled by a repressive
Communist regime. Against this lush, confusing Mediterranean backdrop,
Magdalena’s sister Jadranka, an elusive, flame-haired artist who "resembles
nobody else," suddenly disappears. To find her, Magdalena must take the
first flight of her life (in more ways than one) to scour New York City,
joining forces with her estranged mother, an Americanized cousin she mistrusts,
and an exiled family member everyone thought long dead. As the search
progresses, the story of the entire extended family begins to
unspool. Particularly fascinating is the book's intimate portrayal of life
in exile, how refugees became experts "at segregation, at keeping the
various chambers of (the) heart walled off from one another, the same way that
a single apartment building contained lives that never intersected."
Author Courtney Angela Brckic manages to gracefully interweave three
generations of family stories and lies and to inhabit the otherworldly minds of
both the very young and the very close to dying, all with authority and wisdom.
Though the novel has much to say about what it means to be home and what it means
to be free, the underlying message belongs to Magdalena and Jadranka, two
sisters who show us readers—and each other—what it means to be family.
— Amy Shearn