The First Rule of Swimming: A Novel

Courtney Angela Brkic

Little, Brown & Co., 2013

Agent: Elise Capron

"Courtney Brkic gracefully interweaves three generations of family stories and lies...all with authority and wisdom...An intimate portrayal of life in exile." -O, the Oprah Magazine

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.

“In this suspenseful debut, the romantic simplicity of Rosmarina, a small island modelled on those off the coast of Croatia, belies the region’s violent political history. When Magdalena’s younger sister disappears in New York, she leaves the island to find her. In nonlinear vignettes, Brkic traces three generations of family history, revealing the wounds of war, exile, and betrayal. The revelations are well paced, and Brkic deftly walks the line between the sentimental and the intimate. The novel draws its narrative force from the characters’ desire to protect family and to survive at all costs, even if doing so means letting secrets “belong only to the people who lived them”.
New Yorker