The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic is about two sisters, Magdalena and Jadraka, who are raised their entire lives (apart from one traumatic year) primarily by their grandparents on a small island, Rosamarina, off the coast of Croatia. Jadraka leaves to stay with their American born cousin in New York to help with her cousin's children. One day, Magdalena gets a call from their cousin saying Jadraka is missing. At first Magdalena isn't concerned. Her sister has disappeared before, but this time she hasn't contacted Lena to let her know her whereabouts. What sounds like a lost person mystery evolves into a story of a family long suffering from the effects of war and the bonds of family ties.
I remember reading the synopsis when I was requesting from Netgalley; however, once it arrived, I had a few books ahead of it that I needed to get to first, and this one had to be pushed down the TBR pile. I happened to pick it up without rereading the synopsis, figuring, I must have been interested, or I wouldn't have requested it. So imagine my amusement when I figure out one of the main plot points is a missing woman? If you're following along at home, my last review was Where'd You Go, Bernadette. So I assure you this was not on purpose.
That being said, I think to call this a missing person mystery is selling the book short. It really is the tale of Magdalena's and Jadraka's family and how the war (when Communism fell in the 1990's) effected the members. An uncle who went missing when Lena was just a baby, as well as the girls' mother who makes choices that are harsh and brutal on her children, both have lasting effects on the girls.
It isn't until Magdalena and Ana (the women's mother) arrive in New York that things start coming together in the grand picture. This story spans three generations from Lena and her sister, to their mother Ana and her brother Marin, to the girls' grandfather Luka. I really enjoyed the parts from Luka's perspective and the line he tells the kids when teaching them to swim, "The first rule of swimming was to stay afloat," because it has such meaning in it. Aren't we all just trying to stay afloat?
Library Bag: This is actually a tough one for me to judge because this is one of those books that you'll either love right away or it will drag on. I enjoyed the story of their lives, but it almost masquarades as a mystery novel. Even though Jadraka is missing, you never get the idea she's really in peril until much later. At its heart, it is a story about family and what binds them together, even when it feels like they're being torn apart.
*Review based on a galley provided by netgalley.com