The bonds of kinship and homeland confine but endure in this debut novel from short story author and memoirist Brkic (The Stone Fields, 2004, etc.).
Magdalena is so attached to Rosmarina, the remote Croatian island that is her family’s ancestral home, that she could not leave it even for her true love, Damir, a journalist who now roams the globe without her. She was so traumatized by the dreadful year she and her younger sister Jadranka spent on the mainland with their mother, Ana, and her brutal second husband that she is content to remain a spinster schoolteacher and tend her aging grandparents. But the disappearance of Jadranka, a gifted artist who had gone to visit a cousin in New York City, prompts her sister to begin an odyssey that uncovers some ugly secrets about their family and the agonized history of the former Yugoslavia. Brkic’s well-crafted narrative intersperses Magdalena’s quest with the memories of both sisters, as well as those of their dying grandfather, a partisan during World War II, and of Ana and her brother Marin, who fled to America with the cousin’s family during the oppressive heyday of Yugoslavia’s communist regime. We learn fairly soon that Magdalena’s father may have committed suicide after learning of Ana’s infidelity with a feared local policeman, but it will take the rest of the novel for a tangled web of loyalty and betrayals to unravel enough to reveal the complex motivations behind these acts and many others. The final chapters feature several moving reconciliations affirming the power of love and forgiveness to overcome long-festering traumas, but the closing pages quietly remind us that such reunions can’t necessarily heal every wound or change a person’s destiny.
A few unnecessarily melodramatic plot twists only slightly mar a sensitive tale of deep emotional force.