Flo­rence Adler Swims Forever

By – July 27, 2020

The title of Rachel Beanland’s new nov­el, Flo­rence Adler Swims For­ev­er, leads read­ers to believe they are crack­ing the spine of a light beach read about a bygone era. The first few chap­ters reward these expec­ta­tions, as the read­er is immersed in the world of 1930s Atlantic City. Yet the book soon takes a turn, tack­ling emo­tion­al themes and a sto­ry­line that becomes increas­ing­ly com­plex by the page.

What makes this nov­el fas­ci­nat­ing is there are not many sto­ries depict­ing Jew­ish immi­grants already liv­ing for a gen­er­a­tion in Amer­i­ca in 1934. The nov­el cen­ters on a Jew­ish fam­i­ly no longer strug­gling to assim­i­late, but rather deal­ing with the chal­lenges of eco­nom­ic sur­vival, anti­semitism, and intermarriage.

It’s hard to imag­ine this nov­el being writ­ten in the 1930s. The space between now and then, how­ev­er, has giv­en us time to reflect on the way Jews were dis­crim­i­nat­ed against and women dis­em­pow­ered dur­ing this era. In this nov­el, even though a wealthy man doesn’t let Jews stay in his hotel, his son can still fall in love with a Jew; even though women have very lit­tle pow­er in soci­ety, a father can decide that he would pre­fer his daugh­ter to have a mean­ing­ful job rather than stay in her unhap­py mar­riage. Though it is unlike­ly these real­i­ties would have tak­en place or been writ­ten about in the 1930s, it makes for a thought pro­vok­ing read in the twen­ty-first century.

Beanland’s por­tray­al of the hard­ships of obtain­ing immi­gra­tion papers to get from Europe to Amer­i­ca dur­ing the pre­war years feels painful­ly accu­rate. The end­less, exhaus­tive, Sisyphean hoops the Amer­i­can Jews jumped through, des­per­ate­ly try­ing to help their friends in Ger­many escape, but which often lead nowhere. These chap­ters of the book also feel incred­i­bly rel­e­vant to our cur­rent moment, in which it is increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult for those flee­ing life-threat­en­ing cir­cum­stances to find safe­ty in America.

Despite the seri­ous tone and con­tent, the book is by and large an uplift­ing and fast-paced read. Bean­land delves into what pre­cludes cli­mac­tic events more than the moments them­selves; the ten­sions that hold the read­er through­out the nov­el are explored ful­ly, while the read­er is left won­der­ing whether cer­tain fig­ures are saved from the hor­rors of the Holo­caust, and what the fate of cer­tain roman­tic entan­gle­ments will be.

Discussion Questions

Rachel Beanland’s Flo­rence Adler Swims For­ev­er is an unfor­get­table sto­ry about keep­ing a trag­ic fam­i­ly secret for the ben­e­fit of one per­son, Florence’s sis­ter. Florence’s obses­sive goal of swim­ming the Eng­lish Chan­nel cor­re­sponds with her father’s strug­gle to help a mys­te­ri­ous young girl escape Nazi Ger­many and live with the fam­i­ly dur­ing their tur­moil. Inspired by her own fam­i­ly his­to­ry, Bean­land takes the read­er to the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Atlantic City, bet­ter known as the Jew­ish Riv­iera” in the ear­ly 1930s. It is well researched with mul­ti­lay­ered characters.

Flo­rence Adler Swims For­ev­er engages us with strong sto­ry­telling about the ties that bind a fam­i­ly, love and loss, betray­al, and deter­mined endurance. Long after the last chap­ter is read, the inspi­ra­tional Flo­rence and her fam­i­ly are as vivid to us as the red bathing suit and cap she wears on the front cov­er of Beanland’s debut novel.