Long-listed for the 2020 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize
"Anne Raeff has created another richly memorable world in a complex mode . . . Through intricate interweavings of plot delivered in lean yet powerful, often poetic prose, Only the River ponders what the Germans call 'the unanswerable questions . . . about the difference between courage and cowardice, weakness and strength'the moving riddles of human confrontation with atrocity and possible redemption. It offers, with open hands, a complicated feast: irreconcilable impasses of character and event; what we can and cannot control. Epic and cinematic, wrought and soulful, it is a deeply serious novel, yet full of tenderness . . . its traces will haunt a reader’s heart and mind." The Washington Post
"An expert storyteller, Raeff deftly draws readers into the worlds, however big or small, that her characters inhabit. And while Raeff’s characters often differ in their motivation, what they all share is a desire for discovery of self and the world around them, ultimately showing how we’re shaped by the experiences we endure and people we encounter." Erica Flint, San Francisco Chronicle
"Engrossing . . . Raeff’s seamless web artfully depicts the characters’ will to survive and to fight for what they believe in. This heartfelt story of separation and confluence will move readers." Publishers Weekly
"A haunting, intricately layered novel." Kirkus Reviews
"This is an epic generational tale set against the backdrop of revolutionary war in Nicaragua . . . Filled with lyrical prose and lush descriptions of the setting (including Pepa’s explorations of the jungle and its animal inhabitants), this is a thoughtful reflection on a family and its legacy." Booklist
“Anne Raeff is a master of the family novel, and of the diaspora novel, and of the novel that spans decades and continents. Is there nothing she can’t do? With Only the River she gives us, in her trademark exquisite prose, the deeply moving story of two families joined and separated by a tiny patch of land in Nicaragua, a country as passionate and divided as the unforgettable characters who populate this marvelous book.” Ann Packer, author of The Children’s Crusade
“In this novel, Anne Raeff weaves a multigenerational tale of love and war while at the same time casting a magic spell. Her authorial voice is incantatory. Characters and events caught in recent tragedies take on aspects of myth. The novel feels unique, timely, and yet timeless. I couldn’t put it down.” ––Elizabeth Farnsworth, author of A Train Through Time
“Read Only The River as much for its lush, seductive prose as for its impressive historical and geographical sweep. Read it for its resonant depictions of the high costs of war, and for its ironic and surprising collisions of past and present. Anne Raeff's personal investment in these intersecting stories, and her love for each of her searching, unforgettable characters, comes through on every page. Just read it!” Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men
A Jewish family’s escape from Nazi-occupied Austria to find refuge in Nicaragua in 1942 sets a young girl on a winding path of grief, creating a legacy of loss that spans decades and crosses continents.
When 14-year-old Pepa finds refuge in the small village of El Castillo, where her parents, both doctors, have come to battle yellow fever, she falls into a romantic relationship with Guillermo, a local young man. Trauma holds Pepa in its oppressive grip, causing a paralysis in her after she finds out she's pregnant. Just as they secure visas to the United States, Pepa’s parents discover her condition and decide to eliminate the problem themselves. It's when the family arrives in New York City that the book grounds itself, as if waking up from an ephemeral fever dream. This mirrors Pepa’s emotional journey but also transforms Nicaragua into an almost imagined place, a more primitive location framed by an unintentional neocolonial viewpoint. Still mourning her life in El Castillo, Pepa leaves school to work at a Jewish paper, where she meets her future husband, Oskar, a concentration camp survivor. The narrative is told from alternating characters' viewpoints, with the ghost of Pepa and Oskar’s son, William, slipping in and out. William, who went to Nicaragua in 1982 to fight with the Sandinistas despite having the barest familial link to the country, is reported to have died in his first battle. Liliana, Pepa’s daughter, goes back to Nicaragua and El Castillo in present time after the harsh end of her long-term relationship. Guillermo and his own daughter, Federica, also tell their stories as Liliana and William float into their lives, altering them forever.
A haunting, intricately layered novel, but the central characters’ ties to Nicaragua ultimately lack a deeper believability.