Courtney Angela Brkic – The First Rule of Swimming
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Started: 28 August 2013
Finished: 03 September 2013
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? It was my book club’s pick for September.
Is the “…is you do
not talk about swimming!” joke
too easy? Too bad!
Summary: Sisters Magdalena and Jadranka were raised by their grandparents on the small Croatian island of Rosmarina. Many people have left the island: their uncle Marin, along with the last of their grandfather’s siblings and her family fled to the US when Magdalena was very young, and their embittered mother lives on the mainland, refusing to return. Magdalena is content to stay on Rosmarina, even with its limited opportunities, but Jadranka has an artistic temprament, and goes to stay with their cousin Katarina in New York. When Magdalena receives word that her sister has disappeared, she knows something is wrong and goes to New York to search for her… but what she finds are family secrets that everyone had thought long since buried.
Review: This was one of those books that had lovely writing, and I could see how other people would be drawn to it, and there wasn’t anything exactly wrong with it, but it totally failed to speak to me. I tried, but I could just not find any connection with this book. I enjoyed the prose, and thought Brkic did an excellent job bringing her setting, and the recent history of Croatia, to life. But I didn’t develop an emotional attachment to any of the characters (except maybe Luka, the grandfather, who spends most of the book in a coma), I didn’t find the deep dark family secrets all that surprising, and the wandering, non-linear storytelling kept me from getting really involved in what plot there was. I finished the book – which was not helped by a contrived ninth-inning twist that was totally out of keeping with the tone of the entire rest of the story – and wasn’t sure what the point of it was, what Brkic was trying to say, what I was supposed to take away from my reading experience, or what the (admittedly lovely) cover had to do with anything. It wasn’t a bad read; Brkic’s prose is smooth and the book flows easily from one scene to the next. But I never found anything to grab me, and it ultimately didn’t make much of an impression one way or the other. 3 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: The subject matter reminded me somewhat of Middlesex, although the tone was more reminiscent of some of the other Oprah’s Book Club-y contemporary fiction that I read a decade ago. Although I didn’t particularly connect to this book, there’s no reason it shouldn’t appeal to people who like somewhat meditative contemporary fiction, particularly those who are drawn to books about sisters, or the immigrant experience, or recent Eastern European history.
The island has a history that stretches back through centuries of settlers and maurauders, centuries of people who, like him, have been blessed by chance. Its residents’ bloodlines are so mixed that untangling them would be as impossible as it is pointless. In addition to the happy unions that propagate the human race, he wonders now how many rapes and murders, how many kidnappings, illicit trysts, and unhappy couplings have gone into the making of any one person. –Location 3746
First Line: The letter was written in a girlish hand, the purple letters drifting across the sky blue background of the stationery.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- Location 30: “In fact, Magdalena could recall nothing at all about the older girl with the light brown hair, the one who had cast her arm around Magdalena’s shoulder in the photograph that sat in her grandmother’s vitrine.” – A glass-paneled cabinet or case for displaying articles such as china, objects d’art, or fine merchandise.
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