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Between Two Rivers: A Novel

Between Two Rivers: A Novel

5.0 2
by Nicholas Rinaldi

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Choire Sicha
… in the end, for all its terror, Between Two Rivers reveals itself to be a very gentle -- and quite deserved -- polemic against the monstrousness of man.
The Washington Post
Adam Mazmanian
Though the timeline of Between Two Rivers steers inevitably toward the horrors of 9/11, there is nothing overdetermined or reductive about the stories themselves. Rinaldi, whose previous novels include The Jukebox Queen of Malta, indulges his characters in their untidy lives, and readers who do the same will find their patience rewarded.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Intertwining stories by the author of The Jukebox Queen of Malta offer subtle portraits of the residents of Echo Terrace, a fictitious Battery Park building in which the condominiums are named after the likes of Mae West, Susan B. Anthony and Grandma Moses. At the book's center is the inimitable Romanian concierge, Farro Fescu, who watches with keen eyes the comings and goings of the intriguing inhabitants, including Karl Vogel, a Luftwaffe pilot engaged in an affair with a journalist whose grandfather was killed by a Nazi fighter pilot ("She is making peace with the enemy," Karl thinks); Yesenia, a captivating 19-year-old housemaid who is brutally raped on the way home to her Queens apartment; and Theo, a plastic surgeon who falls for a widow whose husband admitted to an affair and shortly thereafter died of a heart attack. Devastated, the woman, Nora, poisons her exotic pets ("Whatever I love, I make it die") and then walks into traffic. With Nora in a coma, her young actress niece, Angela, moves into her apartment and enters into an unlikely affair with a poem-quoting undertaker who is convinced that love can conquer all. Among a few bizarre twists, a young designer falls (or is pushed) from a window, and Theo is drafted by the FBI to perform a sex-change operation on one of Augusto Pinochet's collaborators. These are complex, moving stories without straightforward resolutions-as one character remarks, "Life is heavy, it weighs"-and if they feel a bit overwritten sometimes, Rinaldi compensates for this with multifaceted and memorable characters. Agent, Nat Sobel. (June 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Echo Terrace is an apartment building near New York's World Trade Center towers in Rinaldi's (The Jukebox Queen of Malta) third novel. To offer outstanding and seamless service, Romanian-born concierge Farro Fescu keeps track of the eccentric tenants with detailed computer files. The plastic surgeon who has a New Guinean funeral canoe in his living room is friends with the grieving widow who keeps a menagerie of exotic animals in her apartment. The German flying ace has a mailroom acquaintance with the woman who makes quilts that hang at the United Nations and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Meanwhile, the cleaning staff exists as a subculture in the building, each of whom has a story, too. The novel spans the years 1992 to 2001 and includes the attacks on the World Trade Center. During this time, life at Echo Terrace unfolds and flowers, changes and reshapes one apartment at a time. Rinaldi's characters are varied and appealing, and the mesh of events and personalities is beautifully crafted, giving the reader a wide range of absorbing scenarios to consider. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/04.]-Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Educ. Lib. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Rinaldi (The Jukebox Queen of Malta, 1999, etc.) takes a familiar narrative model-the interlocking lives of residents in a Manhattan apartment building-and gives it some bright new plumage. Echo Terrace, a glitzy condo close by the Twin Towers, is aptly named, for the building is clamorous with ghosts as the story begins in 1992. Romanian concierge Farro Fescu has never recovered from the loss of his uncle to German bombs during WWII; celebrity quiltmaker Maggie Sowle mourns the death of her man Henry; and so on. But if the past looms large, the present sizzles with (melo)drama, including a murder and two suicides. Two episodes are especially gripping. The first (drama) is the terrifying rape of the pretty housemaid Yesenia on a subway ride; the second (melodrama) is the appearance of two rogue FBI agents, who hustle cosmetic surgeon Theo Tattafruge to a deserted country cottage to perform a sex-change operation on a henchman of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. In two of the more gentle sequences, Westernized Iraqi Abdul Saad woos actress Angela Crespi by covering her foyer in rose petals, while his father Muhta has a decorous affair with Maggie. Rinaldi sets time and mortality in opposition to his characters' desires, not just for sex but for children (Theo), for artistic perfection (Maggie), desire to be grounded by talismans (a tribal canoe, a bearskin linked to Teddy Roosevelt), and for more money, period (Luther Rumfarm, the villain of the piece). The residents are shaken by the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, and the attacks of 9/11 provide the novel's climactic horror, which could scarcely be better told but inevitably dwarfs the characters. Only Fescu stands up to thetragedy, defying a cop's order to leave in order to serve as the building's lonely sentinel. Superb entertainment: some of the characterizations are superficial, but what counts is the warmhearted celebration of New Yorkers and their restless curiosity. Agency: Sobel Weber Associates
Entertainment Weekly
“Rinaldi is a master of elegant prose…gradually hypnotizes and charms, coaxing beauty from the tragic and surreal.”
Boston Globe
“Vivid, elegiac…. Hauntingly beautiful.”
“Hypnotic … Mesmerizing…Audacious… a novel of eerie dimension … A wondrously restrained group portrait of a downtown Manhattan condominium’s residents.”
The Economist
“A rich, ambitious book....Rinaldi conjures a cosmopolitan New York that is violent and tender.”
Booklist (Starred Review)
“A beautiful, emotionally uplifting tribute to the human spirit....Rinaldi summons no less than the pageant of the human tragicomedy.”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“A novel of substance worth your sinking into this summer…. BETWEEN TWO RIVERS is the book of a lifetime.”
New York Times Book Review
“Sprawling [and] elegant.”
“Memorable....Richly textured....Rinaldi paints a complex, compelling portrait of the ways in which we flirt with the American Dream.”
Wall Street Journal
“In a city with eight million stories, this is one worth picking up.”
“Offers even more than fine writing and a well-constructed, intriguing tale ... poignant and uplifting.”
Jay Parini
“Nicholas Rinaldi is such a gifted writer — immensely articulate, lyrical, wise.”

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Read an Excerpt

Between Two Rivers
A Novel

Chapter One

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 ...

Between Two Rivers
A Novel
. Copyright © by Nicholas Rinaldi. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet 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.

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Between Two Rivers 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.