The First Rule of Swimming

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The First Rule of Swimming

by Courtney Angela Brik

published by Back Bay Books



When free spirit Jadranka mysteriously disappears shortly after emigrating to America, her older sister Magdalena must leave their ancestral Croatian island home and follow her to New York City. Magdalena’s search begins to unspool the dark history of their family, reaching back three generations to a country torn by war.

This haunting and sure-footed first novel explores the legacy of betrayal and loss in a place where beauty is fused with hardship, and where individuals are forced to make wrenching choices as they are swept up in the tides of history.

My Review

I admit it- I wanted to read this book initially because of its beautiful cover.  Doesn’t it just grab your eye??  I certainly did not expect it to be such a deep story that pulled me in and held me as it did.  This is the debut novel for author Courtney Angela Brik, and it tells the tale of the bond between two sisters.  Magdalena and her younger sister grew up on Rosamarina, a fictional small island off the coast of Croatia.  They were raised by their grandparents and grow into very different woman.  Magdalena loves the tradition and community of island life.  She chooses to stay close to her family and becomes a teacher on the island.  Jadranka is an artist, and is desperate to leave that life behind.  She goes away often, though always returns to her sister.  She eagerly heads off to New York, when invited to stay with a cousin.  When she disappears, Magdalena comes to find her.

Well written and deliberate, this is a book I would definitely recommend.  I thought the descriptive quality of the writing really held my attention, especially during the parts of the book where there really wasn’t much action.  I was surprised to learn quite a bit as well, not knowing much Croatian history, from the areas in the book that dealt with the girls’ uncle.

My rating

4 out of 5

About the Author


Courtney Angela Brkic is the author of The First Rule of Swimming (Little, Brown, and Company, 2013), Stillness: and Other Stories (FSG, 2003) and The Stone Fields (FSG, 2004). Her work has also appeared in Zoetrope, The New York Times, The Washington Post Magazine, Harpers & Queen, the Utne Reader, TriQuarterly Review, The Alaska Review and National Geographic, among others. Brkic has been the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Whiting Writer’s Award. Stillness was named a Barnes and Noble Discover pick, a 2003 Chicago Tribune “Best Book” and a 2003 New York Times “Notable Book”. The Stone Fields was shortlisted for a Freedom of Expression Award by the Index on Censorship. She lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband and son, and teaches in the MFA program at George Mason University

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