Farro Fescu is the proud and observant concierge of Echo Terrace, a condominium in New York City. Passing through his lobby at all hours is an exotic cross-section of the world's population: an Egyptian-born plastic surgeon who specializes in gender reassignment, a fighter pilot who flew for Nazi Germany during World War II, an Iraqi spice merchant and the world-famous quilter with whom he's having an affair, the adulterer's son who dreams of becoming an undertaker, and the widow whose apartment is a jungle Eden filled with a menagerie of specimens.
Farro Fescu knows them all, knows all their secrets. Yet he does not know what is in his own heart why, after a long, hard life, he is still alive, and still alone. Nor does he know what he will be capable of in the face of sudden, overwhelming tragedy.
This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
About the Author
Nicholas Rinaldi is the author of two previous novels, The Jukebox Queen of Malta and Bridge Fall Down, and three collections of poetry. His stories and poems have appeared widely in literary journals here and abroad. He teaches literature and creative writing at Fairfield University, and lives in Connecticut with his wife, Jackie.
Read an Excerpt
Between Two Rivers
By Rinaldi, Nicholas
HarperCollins PublishersISBN: 0060578769
A Green Dream of the Jungle
In Nora Abernooth's ninth-floor apartment, there are finches, canaries, three marmosets, a defanged cobra, a tortoise, and a macaw with blue and gold feathers. There is also a rhesus monkey that answers to the name of Joe, and a glass-enclosed formicarium loaded with ants.
She lets the finches out of their cages and they flit about from room to room, perching on the chairs and lamps, and on the lemon tree in the living room. In the kitchen, which is hung with white cabinets, they flutter among the morning glories by the window, and in their busy way they poke at the grapes and the apricots in the fruit bowl. Her husband, Louis, who had had a burgeoning career as an entomologist, has been dead now for six years, yet there are times when it seems he's still alive, moving among the animals. She hears him in the library, browsing through his books, or in the kitchen, fumbling with the coffeepot. There are moments when she seems to glimpse him from the corner of her eye -- but when she looks up, there's nothing, merely a finch gliding by, or one of the snakes readjusting itself on the sofa. She lives with echoes, shadows, dim rustlings, as if every wall in the apartment were a foggy mirror tossing up tarnished images and vague, elusive glimmers.
In the winter months, when the heat is on, robbing the air of moisture, she keeps a humidifier going day and night. The animals suffer when the air is dry. She turns on the showers in both bathrooms, letting the steam flow warm and wet into the other rooms. The air thickens and grows heavy, like the air of the rain forest in Ecuador, where she spent several months with Louis soon after they were married. Their jungle honeymoon, she called it, their lush, decadent romp in the tangled wilderness.
For the finches, there is a mix of millet and canary seed, with cuttlebone and grit. The macaw is spoiled on peanuts. For the tortoise, a mash of fresh fruit and vegetables, with bonemeal. Because of the moisture in the air, there's a problem with mold. Dampness clings to the white walls, forming patches of varying shapes and sizes -- in the living room, above the mantel, a magenta smear that shades off to pale yellow, and in the dining room, above the buffet, a gray smudge tinged with red. In the master bedroom, small green spots have appeared on the white louvred doors that open onto the walk-in closet. She used to be diligent about wiping the mold away as soon as it formed, but now it's simply there, growing at will, allowed to make its way in whatever shapes and colors it chooses.
After her bath, as she towels herself dry, she wanders from room to room, wet feet leaving a meandering trail on the beige wall-to-wall that carpets the apartment. Her trail winds through the bedroom, the dining room, Louis's library, through the long foyer, and ends in the large but sparsely furnished living room, where she picks up a Bible from the coffee table and stretches out on the floor, on the bearskin in front of the fireplace.
She is pink and warm from the bath, and pleasantly drowsy. The Bible is a Gideon that she took, years ago, from a motel in Ithaca. It's the only Bible she's ever owned.That time in Ithaca, it was her first night with Louis, before they were married. "I want this," she said, taking the Bible, tenderly, as a reminiscence. It disappeared for a while, buried in a box of books, but after Louis died, when she was cleaning out and rearranging, she found it again, and now it's a comfort for her, a source of solace and consolation. Scarcely a day goes by that she doesn't linger over a few verses, deriving a haunting satisfaction from the old words and rhythms.
The bearskin is from a giant grizzly, Ursus horribilis -- this one was cinnamon-colored, the fur thick and reddish brown. It was given to her long ago by her grandfather, when he was very old and she was very young. She runs her fingers through the fur and leans down into it, into the bear's warmth, into the hard-soft clumps of hair, and the Bible falls open to a page she's looked at many times before. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. She lies down into the bear's fur, into its silence, and thinks of Louis, gone forever, yet at this moment, in his vague way, he is here in the room with her, breathing as she is breathing, and waiting to be touched.
Her face is deep into the pelt, into its rugged smoothness, and this, she thinks, is death, the beginning of it, the slowness of it, the valley of the shadow, shaped in darkness.And yes, she thinks, yes, I will fear no evil. Her fingers clutch lightly at the bear's wool and she breathes heavily, tugging at the humid air. The rhesus watches her. The cobra glides across her ankles. A finch flies from the mantel to the lemon tree, and she lies there, on the bearskin, in a green dream of the jungle, thinking of Louis.
In the rain forest there were monkeys in the trees, high in the canopy, and birds with warm, burning wings, toucans and tanagers, and always the insects, the glorious, swarming insects, incessant among the flowers and rotting logs. It was because of the insects that they were there, she and Louis, those slow three months in the first year of their marriage.
They were gathering specimens. Louis was on leave from the university, on a government grant, studying the insects and finding some that no one had ever seen before. He searched and collected, and she used the camera, her father's old Leica ...Continues...
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Table of Contents
|Prologue: Farro Fescu's End-of-the-World Friday Fantasy||3|
|A Green Dream of the Jungle||19|
|From Trance to Venial Sin||55|
|Mist on the Sepik River, Drums Beating||59|
|The Jamaica Avenue El||82|
|The War Against the Ants||110|
|The Persistence of Blue||116|
|The Bench by the River||130|
|The Mournful Sound of the Train, Folding Over Him||142|
|The Return of Renata Negri||160|
|God Gives the Rain||166|
|A Wish List, a Hate List||189|
|The End-of-the-Century Memorial Quilt||194|
|The Blood Purge of 1934||221|
|Snow Falling, Eighteen Minutes Past Noon||240|
|The Whiteness of the Fields-No Crows, No Deer||259|
|The Long, Happy Death of Ira Klempp||289|
|The Chapel Near the Ferry||295|
|The Elephant Show||311|
|Orchids and Candy Hearts||319|
|The Fourth of July||331|
|Four Adagios and a Love Letter||360|
|The Birthday of Muhta Saad||379|
|Black Smoke Rising||396|
|Papers in the Dust||416|
What People are Saying About This
“Nicholas Rinaldi is such a gifted writer immensely articulate, lyrical, wise.”
Reading Group Guide
About the book
Rumanian refugee Farro Fescu is the proud concierge of Echo Terrace, a New York City condominium. Passing through his lobby at all hours of day and night is an exotic cross-section of the world's population, including: Theo Tattafruge, an Egyptian-born plastic surgeon specializing in gender re-assignment; Karl Vogel, a World War II fighter-pilot from Germany; Muhta Saad, an Iraqi spice merchant and his son Adbul, studying to become an undertaker; Maggie Sowle, a world-famous quilter; Harry Falcon, a brilliant captain of industry now dying of cancer, and his lover, the alluring María Gracia Mono.
As the novel shifts from one floor to another, revealing the characters' private histories and tracing the numerous intersections of their daily lives, a lush tapestry of experience emerges that demonstrates, even in the face of great tragedy, the profound resilience of the human spirit.
- Several of the characters -- Nora, Farro Fescu, Theo, Yesenia -- are involved in actions that result in someone's death. Compare the motivations of these characters. Are their actions justified? How do the characters feel about what they've done?
- In many ways, Between Two Rivers is a turn-of-the-century novel that alludes to many of the major events of the twentieth century. What are some of those events, and how have they affected the lives of the characters?
About the author
Nicholas Rinaldi's stories and poems have appeared widely in literary journals here and abroad. He is the author of two previous novels, Bridge Fall Down and The Jukebox Queen of Malta, and threecollections of poetry. He teaches literature and creative writing at Fairfield University.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Set within the walls of Echo Terrace, a flash New York apartment building, Between Two Rivers is a smooth-flowing elegantly written novel about the everyday lives of the residents and staff of an upscale Condominium. Rather than offering an intricate plot, Rinaldi expertly interweaves the lives of the characters, tracing how their day-to-day lives cross and collide and become dramatically intertwined as they go about their daily business. At the centre, seated behind his oak desk in the marble lobby, concierge Farro Fescu is the pivot around whom the life of the building revolves. The building is Farro's passion as well as his work, his intimate knowledge of the residents every custom, need and desire such, it seems wires run from his fingers to every apartment. Rinaldi uses Farro to pull the whole together. Through Farro, Rinaldi brings into play all sorts of extraordinary characters, a cross-section of society in fact, who breathe life into the building - and the novel, each with their own very different complex backstory to tell. Character-driven rather than plot-driven, Rinaldi's narrative cross-cuts intermittently from one apartment to another, spotlighting first one character then another as the narrative focus switches up and down and around the building. The effect is to allow the reader to look through different windows, watching unseen as Rinaldi switches from one apartment to another, and from one scenario to the next - a widow whose apartment houses a collection of wildlife; an ex-Luftwaffe fighter pilot; a plastic surgeon who performs sex-change ops: a frozen-food big cheese who is dying of cancer - revealing in a series of vivid snapshots, the depth and complexity, the heart and mind, of each character in focus. A series of powerful, dramatic set-pieces including et al, the rape of the Condo's young housekeeper on the subway and the attacks on the World Trade Centre, culminating in the terrible events of 9/11, had this reader racing chapter after chapter through the velvet-smooth prose in what seemed like no time at all; prose infused with surges of anguish and terror that resonates long in the mind. Elsewhere in the book, in contrast, the tone is softer. Recommended! Try also The New Yorker's Wonderful Town and The Time Out Book of New York Short Stories for other perspectives on life in New York apartment buildings.
I was captivated by Between two Rivers when it was first published three years ago, and have since loaned my copy to at least six friends, each of whom has thanked me for the recommendation and wondered along with me - why has this outstanding work not been more widely read? Rinaldi has given life to an unforgettable, multidimensional, disparate cast of characters, each with an absorbing backstory, all of whom move inexorably toward their personal confrontation with the horror of 9/11. We know this is coming, and because we are made to care so very deeply for these people, we hold our breath during the final fifty pages, asking ourselves - with the hindsight of those horrific images - where is he, what does she know, what is he feeling, how will she get on with life? Since the publishing of BTR, several other authors have incorporated themes of 9/11 in their works, most notably Claire Messud in The Emperor's Children and Ian McEwan in Saturday. But none have done so as masterfully as Nick Rinaldi.
I enjoyed this book thoroughly. This is a complex read, but if one stays with it is rewarded well. However the ending, although poignant, takes away somewhat from the work the author has put into making his characters alive and larger than life.
I read this wonderful book flying to San Fransico from New York and on the return trip home. The descriptions of the city were engaging, making me eager to return home. I felt I knew each of the quirky characters personally and shared in their tragedies and triumphs. I had no idea how the book would end and was in tears through the last chapters as I relived those horrible days.
Echo Terrace. One building in New York that brings an eclectic group of people together as one. Each person has their own story, their own pain. Yet through all of this, they remain strong through two of our country¿s most devastating events¿a true test of human spirit.