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Between Two Rivers

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In the decade leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, Romanian emigre Farro Fescu stands sentry in the hushed marble lobby of Manhattan’s Echo Terrace apartment building, tending to his diverse flock: the entomologist’s widow who fills her rooms with exotic animals, the Belgian-Egyptian plastic surgeon who’s nearly shot by an angry gender-reassignment patient, the beautiful 19-year-old cleaner who decides to keep the baby fathered by her rapist, and the Iraqi spice merchant who befriends the world-famous quilter downstairs. Rinaldi (”The Jukebox Queen of Malta”) is a master of elegant prose and psychological insight. Though his narration sounds deceptively prim at first, Rivers gradually hypnotizes and charms, coaxing beauty from the tragic and surreal.