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The First Rule of Swimming

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  1,306 ratings  ·  268 reviews
A woman must leave her island home to search for her missing sister -- and confront the haunted history of her family.

Magdalena does not panic when she learns that her younger sister has disappeared. A free-spirit, Jadranka has always been prone to mysterious absences. But when weeks pass with no word, Magdalena leaves the isolated Croatian island where their family has a
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 28th 2013 by Little, Brown and Company (first published January 1st 2013)
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✨Bean's Books✨
Jadranka and Magdalena are sisters tied together in unbreakable bonds. But when Jadranka turns up missing, Magdalena must go find her and in the process uncovers some very interesting family secrets along the way.
I'm not really sure what exactly to categorize this book as. It's supposed to be literary fiction but it has elements of a thriller in it as well which is very confusing.
The story has a very simple premise but I feel that it was very weak execution. The poetic writing style is nic
THE FIRST RULE OF SWIMMING: stay afloat. Easier said than done when I hovered beneath the depths of prose, and searched for my bubbles on my way toward the surface, popping above the water and gasping for air. More often than not, I drowned, swallowing seawater, my lungs filling, my eyes popping out of my head, my clothes drenched, as I ended up entrenched with the sharks and a stingray. But I did see a blowfish explode, and I tried to blow my nose underwater—it didn’t work—and I coughed my way ...more
Diane S ☔
Dec 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
3.5 First I love the cover of this book, it is one of the best covers I have seen lately. I first started this book and was excited it was about an area I knew little about. Croatia, and Yugoslavia and their civil war, the effects of the civil war on this family and how part of the family ended up in America made for fascinating reading. The description of the island, the love some of these family members had for this place was wonderful as was the love between the two sisters. The mystery devel ...more
Jan 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jadranka and Magdalena Babic lives are shaped by the romantic simplicity of there island home, the fictional Rosmarina and the secrets that there fisherman family keep. Magdalena and her her younger sister have always been close, but around them there family is ripped apart by political upheavals and wars. Now adults, Magdalena is a school teacher and Jadranka a talented artist with a wonderful sense of humour, but also someone who is quite different from the rest of the family.

The sisters famil
May 06, 2013 rated it liked it
"In the beginning was the sea," she said, so that Luka's heart expanded, exactly as wind filled a white sail. "And the sea was God."

3.5 stars. I chose this book because of it's beautiful cover, and in this instance it's okay to judge the book by its cover.

There were many things I enjoyed about this book:
1. The authors description of the love you can feel for a physical place.
2. The description of the relationship between siblings, not only Jadranka and Magdalena, but also Luka and Vinka, and M
The First Rule of Swimming is a debut novel about a family which has been beaten but not drowned by the War in the Balkans? War is always awful and the survivors suffer collateral damage whether their scars are visible or not. We often think that small islands are insulated because they are out of the way and protected by their close knit communities. As we see in this novel, the inhabitants of the fictional Island, are easily controlled by the police and gossip.

The writing is good and the chara
Patrice Hoffman
Apr 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
After not receiving a letter from her sister for two months, Magdalena journeys to America from a small Croatian island named Rosmarina. Magdalena is worried that something has happened to Jadranka, her free-spirited, artistic, younger sister who's unable to sit still long anyplace. Although Magdalena and Jadranka are very different, they share a close bond to each other. The worry and concern for Jadranka always provides a sense of angst for the reader since history has dictated that usually ci ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
The war(s) in the Balkans divided families, sometimes for decades, and that is the premise at the center of this novel. Two sisters, Magdalena and Jadranka, are now adults and the younger sister has gone missing in New York Sister.

The story winds around several different periods of time, centering around this family. The turmoil felt very raw, very recent, still unresolved, despite some hopeful moments. At times, I would lose the thread of a character because of the somewhat circular storytelli
Lyn (Readinghearts)
Apr 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those who enjoy reading about other places and cultures
Recommended to Lyn (Readinghearts) by: Little, Brown, and Company through Netgalley
The First Rule of Swimming is the debut novel by author Courtney Angela Brkic. The title quote of the book comes from Luka, the patriarch of a Croatian family from the island of Rosmarina, "the first rule of to stay afloat" is what he tells each successive generation as he teaches them to survive in the waters around the island. This is a very fitting metaphor for the book as a whole as Luka's family has been trying to do just that...stay afloat despite all of the turmoil and chan ...more
Apr 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is the kind of read that you will either find to be one of the most beautiful pieces of literature ever written, or you will find it intensely boring. I would say that I found it of the former variety and really enjoyed it, although it does not have a fast pace or a ridiculously twisted plot, which seems to be the new thing in mainstream literature.

What this novel is, in my opinion, is a book that has a quiet eloquence. The beauty of the passages rather set me back at times (in a good
The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic is the story of the bond of sisterly love and the lengths one sister will go for the other. Two young girls, Magdelena and Jadranka were raised by their grandparents on Rosmarina, a small island off the coast of Croatia after the death of their father and their mother’s desertion. For one, life on the small island is all she needs, for the other, something is missing, something she needs to discover out in the world. When Jadranka leaves to go ...more
Jun 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
This included an interesting sister dynamic going on and it also was not a difficult read, despite the poor jumps in transition between places/times. You often had to reread the first of each sequence to understand "where you were" so to speak. But you could still follow the gist after a page or two of context reread. But somehow, and I don't know why, I just did not like the characters all that much in this book. And immigration stories are in my top three of "favorite" scenarios, on top of it. ...more
Cynthia Archer
Apr 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a lovely novel that focuses on tradition and family, and how they are intricately bound together even when one tries to severe them. The story is about the family of two sisters, Magdalena and Jadranka. They develop a strong connection to one another after their father dies in a fishing accident and their mother begins a relationship with an abusive man. They leave their mother's home on the mainland of Croatia to be raised by their grandparents on their tiny home island of Rosmarina. T ...more
Apr 27, 2013 rated it liked it
I just need to say first, that this novel has one of the most beautifully designed book covers that I've ever seen. The colors in the flowers contrasted against the aqua gradient -- simply lovely. Sadly, for me, the cover was far more intriguing than the novel itself.

Magdalena was born and raised on the island of Rosmarina -- a small island off the coast of Croatia. While everyone around her grows up and moves off the island never to return, Magdalena remains. Rather than marry and breed a child
May 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Most reviews that I've seen say that this is a book that focuses on the bond between the two sisters, Magdalena and Jadranka. I think that the differences between the two sisters are actually more important. Jadranka is a talented artist and an individualist. She desperately wanted to leave home for the sake of her art career. Magdalena values tradition, community and family. Because Magdalena values these things, she remains on the island off the coast of Croatia where she was born. She commits ...more
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was ok

The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic was a boring read for me. I tried to like it, I tried to get into the story but it was all over the place and I really didn't like the characters at all so it made it hard.

The story is about two sisters in Croatia, Magdalena and Jadranka. Magdalena goes to America to search for Jadranka which ended up going missing. The thing is, this story is from a lot of different characters views such as the grandfather who had a stroke and can't do any
May 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
I received an ARC on Net Galley for a fair review.

I started reading this book, but put it down for a bit while I read a few others. I am finding it a bit disjointed and slow even though I am interested in the story.
I just started reading again and will be back with more...

So happy I stuck with this book, I really enjoyed it. It was a bit difficult to follow in the beginning but once I got into the story I was hooked. The history of the island and the family dynamics were very interesting.
Debra (having surgery will be back in a few days)
Received from Goodreads first reads giveaway.

This was a good book and nice debut for writer Courtney Angela Brkic. It was well written and tells the story of not only two sisters but various members of a family. This book allows us to look at the legacy of betrayal, hardships, war, family secrets and loss. Although it is well written, I did have some difficulty getting into this book. It did not grip me right away but there was enough in the story for me to want to keep reading.
Sep 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: my cousins
I really enjoyed this book. It has a bit of everything: a family story, a mystery, history and a setting, mostly, in another country. Much of the story takes place in Rosmarina, a fictional island near Split, Croatia. A small part of the story also takes place in Pittsburgh when some of the family members immigrate. The primary characters are Magdalena and her sister, Jadranka and their parents, grandparents and extended family members, great aunt and cousin, Katarina, also have roles. The histo ...more
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, read-2018
What I loved about this was how Croatia was affected by the secret police: the fear that you were being watched, even after the decades. How the experience of communism tore families apart.

This is a family story: part of Magdalena's family lives in America, where they escaped from the Croatian communist regime. This is a story about living with the aftereffects of that large tragedy.

Within that larger story is also the smaller one - ties that breaks a family apart (domestic violence, (view spoil
Paola (A Novel Idea)
Originally posted at Novel Idea Reviews


Anything that centers around the bond between sisters always resonates pretty deeply with me because I have a sister of my own. We’re seven years apart, but look and act more like twins now that we’re not kids anymore. (Actually, you might have seen her around here — her name is Nina and she does guest reviews for us once in a while.) The heart of this book is the relationship between sisters Magdalena and Jadranka, who have stuck together throug
The first rule of swimming, he had told her, was to stay afloat.

Let me start this review, by saying that once again I found myself wanting to read this book because of its cover. The colorful combination of floating flowers and the contrast with the legs behind and the tealish gradient at the bottom was eye-catching.

When I finished reading the book I found it strange and thought the cover wasn't relatable to the story. But after looking at it closely and trying to think from what I think is Cour
Chrissy Swagerty
Jul 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
My Rating – 3 ¾ Stars

Magdalena has lived in the Croatian island of Rosamarina her whole life, except for one year as a child and when she went to university. Her father died when she was a child and her mother, left her with her grandparents on the island. She’s very quiet and reserved and has no desire to ever leave the island.

Her younger sister, Jadranka, has an easy smile and fiery red hair and flits from place to place. She eventually lands in America, acting as a babysitter for a cousin tha
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
The First Rule of Swimming is Courtney Angela Brkic’s debut novel, a family saga that explores the repercussions of the Yugoslav war on three generations of the Babic family. The story focuses on Magdalena and Jadranka, sisters who are completely opposite from one another. Magdalena, the elder of the two, is serious and private, with no desire of leaving their home on Rosmarina, a fictional island off the coast of Croatia. Jadranka is the free-spirited, artistic wanderer. Regardless of their dif ...more
Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Kat's Review

This novel is a work of art, from the cover right through to the epilogue. It's not a fast paced story, packed with action and adventure. It starts off slow, laying out the key players and setting the scene, before building up to present. It's obvious from the start that there are secrets waiting to be unraveled; secrets that threaten to tear Magdalena's family apart. The problem is, no one is willing to lay those secrets on the table, to put together all the missing pieces of the p
Orbs n Rings
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
A passionate story of the bond between family and those ties that bind.

I found this story magical, this little island in Croatia, which seems to be only appreciated by the innocence of children, the elderly and tourists. Brkic has painted a realistic picture of the heart and spirit of the true artist in Jadranka, who's fleeting moments of passionate creativity come and go like the winds of the little island.

The First Rule of Swimming has characters anyone can relate to, like the motherly older s
3.5 stars.

"The First Rule of Swimming" is a deliciously evocative novel, where the Adriatic island of Rosmarina, while fictional, is emblematic of so many other ancient and insular communities not only in Croatia, but all over the world. The island is its own character – the author does an amazing job of imbuing it with both visual imagery as well as the heart-tugging sense of belonging that comes from being the most recent in a long march of generations that hail from a particular place. That
Apr 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book on Netgalley from the publisher in return for an honest review*

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. Brk
Apr 14, 2013 rated it liked it
I was provided with an advanced reader copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published tomorrow, 28 May 2013. The first thing that caught my attention to this book was the cover, it is absolutely beautiful.

The story is about two sisters, Magdalena and Jadranka, who lives on a small Croatian island called Rosmarina. From when they were young, they regularly corresponded with their cousin Katarina, who now lives in New York. Jadranka decided one
Jun 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: ebook-arc
The First Rule of Swimming was the story of a family whose roots are bound in the fictional Croatian Island, Rosmarina. The author created a beautiful setting and focused the book on two sisters, Magdalena and Jadranka, who have very differing needs and outlooks on life. I found both characters sympathetic, and was hoping for a good outcome for both.

Magdalena is content living on the island of her childhood, Rosmarina. She teaches school, looks after her grandparents, and appreciates the beauty
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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 re ...more

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