Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
This novel follows three generations of an American-Jewish family in 1934 Atlantic City. Florence, the youngest daughter, is intent on swimming the English Channel but tragically drowns while training. Her mother, Esther, decides to hide her death to help protect her other daughter’s dangerous pregnancy. Their situation is complicated even further when Joseph, the father, helps a young Jewish woman emigrate from Germany for seemingly no reason.
The web of secrets ultimately untangles, in the process both harming and freeing members of the family. Florence Adler Swims Forever provides a nuanced account of a family broken on many levels trying to endure, despite the racism, the effects of the Great Depression and the looming threat of Nazi Germany.
There is no one who loves family secrets and dysfunction more than I do, and this book definitely delivers! It takes a softer approach than these types of books normally do, though. It was wonderfully intimate and heart-breaking, since we got to hear how Florence’s death impacted each member of the family. It was also very well written and was so enthralling that it kept me up well after 2:00 a.m. to finish it. Their lives are messy and the way their stories tangle together kept me wanting more.
It was fascinating to read about how the American-Jewish were reacting to Nazi Germany, as well. Normally, historical fiction set during WWII takes place in Europe, much closer to the action. Reading about the Nazi’s rise to power from a distance both minimizes the threat as well as making it more relatable to the audience, since that is how those of us today learn about the Holocaust. In a world still facing many of the same issues, seeing how such a large threat can seem somewhat small from far away—as well as the true scale of the threat from the perspective of a German Jewish woman—helps contextualize the issue and can help us better understand similar issues that still affect us.
My only critique is that I wish we had gotten to hear more from some of the characters’ perspectives, because the point of view switched so frequently. Thus, some of the storylines were not as complete as they could have been. The storyline that left me wanting more was how Esther and Joseph’s tense relationship unraveled and came back together.
Overall, though, this book is definitely worth the read and I recommend this book to lovers of fiction and family secrets. It will keep you reading until the last page!
Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.