Book Review: Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

Florence Adler Swims Forever
Rachel Beanland

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I decided to read this right away after announcing it was on my radar. What I didn’t know then is that Beanland’s debut historical novel is based on a true family story about the author’s great-great-aunt, Florence Lowenthal.

Florence Lowenthal grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and dreamed of swimming the English Channel. Although a strong swimmer, she drowned in the summer of 1929 off the coast of Atlantic City. At the time, Florence’s sister was pregnant and in the hospital on bedrest, after losing a baby boy. Their mother insisted they keep Florence’s death a secret until after the baby was born. Beanland used these events to write her story. She created additional characters to add historical content.

In Beanland’s story, the Adlers are a Jewish family and Florence is the younger daughter. Her older sister, Fannie is in the hospital on bedrest. During this time, her daughter, seven-year-old Gussie Feldman, lives with the grandparents while Fannie’s husband, Isaac, who works for the Adler family business, stays at their apartment. A young woman named Anna Epstein also lives with the family. Joseph Adler has sponsored her to come to America from Germany, to escape Hitler’s alarming restrictions on Jews living in Germany. Anna’s parents hope to join their daughter, but they face a multitude of nonsensical requirements and time is running out.

Like the real Lowenthal mother, Esther Adler insists on keeping Florence’s death quiet so that Fannie will deliver a healthy baby. During these months, we learn about other family secrets, especially between Joseph and Esther, and the reason Anna has come to stay with them. Isaac Feldman also plays an important part of the story. Beanland throws in a nice romance as well as a few moral dilemmas.

One of the best parts of the book is its setting and the author’s description of Atlantic City’s sights and sounds. Although completely unrelated in plot and character, it reminded me of the HBO show Boardwalk Empire and I was easily able to picture Atlantic City during these times.

I enjoyed reading Florence Adler Swims Forever, although I thought the story was a little flat at times. The first half reads like a Young Adult novel, but transitions to more mature themes in the second half. I liked how several characters had to make important and bold decisions that affect the Adler family.

This is a fast read and great for fans of historical fiction. Although the end lacked a lot of details, it gave me space to imagine how the characters are doing. I look forward to seeing more books by this author.

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Book on my radar – Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

I have this book on my Kindle and I’ve been trying to get to it. My work friend recommended it and now I’m just going to have to make it happen! It’s the Winner of the 2020 National Jewish Book Award for Debut Fiction and a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“Over the course of one summer that begins with a shocking tragedy, three generations of the Adler family grapple with heartbreak, romance, and the weight of family secrets.

Every summer, Esther and Joseph Adler rent their house out to vacationers escaping to “America’s Playground” and move into the small apartment above their bakery. This is the apartment where they raised their two daughters, Fannie and Florence. Now Florence has returned from college, determined to spend the summer training to swim the English Channel, and Fannie, pregnant again after recently losing a baby, is on bedrest for the duration of her pregnancy. After Joseph insists they take in a mysterious young woman whom he recently helped emigrate from Nazi Germany, the apartment is bursting at the seams.

When tragedy strikes, Esther makes the shocking decision to hide the truth—at least until Fannie’s baby is born—and pulls the family into an elaborate web of secret-keeping and lies, bringing long-buried tensions to the surface that reveal how quickly the act of protecting those we love can turn into betrayal after tragedy.”

In case you don’t know, “America’s Playground” refers to Atlantic City. (I wouldn’t have known that unless my work friend had told me.)

I like historical fiction and stories about secrets. It seems to have an original twist to it too. What do you think? Would you read it?

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