The Rhythm of MemoryAlyson Richman
PRAISE FOR THE WORKS OF ALYSON RICHMAN
The Rhythm of Memory
Named one of the Top Five Books
on Nations and Lives in Transition by The Wall Street Journal
“The cry of every refugee, the eerie sense of being transparent, dispensable, irrelevant, emerges powerfully from Alyson Richman’s intricately plotted and touching narrative…The four main characters are so authentic, so flawed and so touching, and their stories so believable, that a reader ends up rooting for all of them.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“An engrossing examination of the prisons people create for themselves and the way they accustom themselves to suffering until liberation seems as painful as captivity. This is an ambitious exploration of political and personal struggles.”
“A heart-wrenching story of loss and love in the lives of people affected by war and political upheaval…[marked by] sharp resonance.”
“Deep, thought-provoking philosophical questions on the needs of an individual and a family against the demands of deadly leadership and a nation.”
—Midwest Book Review
The Lost Wife
“Staggeringly evocative, romantic, heartrending, sensual, and beautifully written, Alyson Richman’s The Lost Wife may well be the Sophie’s Choice of this generation.”
—John Lescroat, New York Times bestselling author
“Daringly constructed, this moving novel begins at the end and then, in a fully realized circle through the most traumatic events of the twentieth century, returns you there in a way that makes your heart leap. Richman writes with the clarity and softness of freshly fallen snow.”
—Loring Mandel, two-time Emmy Award–winning screenwriter of Conspiracy
“Richman once again finds inspiration in art, adding evocative details to a swiftly moving plot. Her descent into the horrors of the Holocaust lends enormous power to Lenka’s experience and makes her reunion with Josef all the more poignant.”
“Tragedy and hope, love and loss, and the strength to endure are examined through Richman’s graceful writing and powerful characters.”
“Begins with a chilling revelation and had me hooked throughout. A love story wrapped in tragedy and survival, I read The Lost Wife in one sitting. Tense, emotional, and fulfilling: a great achievement by Alyson Richman.”
—Martin Fletcher, special correspondent, NBC News, winner of the Jewish National Book Award
“The Lost Wife is a luminous, heartbreaking novel. I was barely able to put it down and can’t stop thinking about it.”
—Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude & Camille and Marrying Mozart
“A truly beautiful, heartfelt story…I couldn’t put it down once I started it. Ms. Richman is a very special talent.”
—New York Times bestselling author Kristin Hannah
The Last Van Gogh
“The Last Van Gogh is a balanced symphony…Richman’s style is gentle and sober. With clear, undulating prose…it is as evocative as one of Van Gogh’s paintings. Richman proves she can travel through time to re-create the past.”
—En Route Magazine
“The Last Van Gogh paints an intricate portrait of a woman’s life at the end of the nineteenth century…It is a powerful and poignant love story.”
“[A] beautiful book.”
The Mask Carver’s Son
“Recalls Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha…Her sense of Japanese culture is subtle and nuanced.”
—San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle
“This reverent, formal, and ambitious first novel boasts a glossy surface and convincing period detail.”
“Richman has successfully drawn upon her historical research and her own experience…filled with historical detail and strong characterization.”
“A meticulous profile of a man struggling against his native culture, his family, and his own sense of responsibility.”
—The New York Times Book Review
Also by Alyson Richman
THE LOST WIFE
THE LAST VAN GOGH
THE MASK CARVER’S SON
The Rhythm of
Previously published as Swedish Tango
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
THE RHYTHM OF MEMORY
Copyright © 2004 by Alyson Richman.
“Readers Guide” copyright © 2012 by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Excerpt from The Lost Wife copyright © 2011 by Alyson Richman.
Cover design by Sarah Oberrender.
Cover photos: girl: © Lee Avison / Trevillion; building and trees: iStockPhoto / Thinkstock.
Book design by Laura K. Corless.
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Washington Square Press trade paperback edition / September 2005
Berkley trade paperback edition / October 2012
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
GIVE SORROW WORDS; THE GRIEF THAT DOES NOT SPEAK
WHISPERS THE O’ER-FRAUGHT HEART AND BIDS IT BREAK.
Table of Contents
The Lost Wife
She awakened to the sound of birds singing, the morning mist rising above the tall grasses from where she now lay. Her face imprinted with the shapes of crushed daisies, the small flowers folding underneath her fragile face.
A small ant scampered across her arm. A butterfly landed on her mass of matted, black curls before fluttering to an azalea bush. And beneath her, she inhaled the intense and heady smell of the soil.
Several seconds passed before Salomé de Ribeiro realized that she had not died and gone to paradise. She was not dreaming, she was not hallucinating. She was free. The prison was now miles away from where she lay.
They had let her go in a park. A blindfolded, bruised shadow tumbling from a van. She had fallen to the ground with barely a thud, for there was far too little weight on her to cause much of a sound. A hundred tiny bones encapsulated in a delicate, purple skin. The earth had welcomed her, the wet ground sinking slightly beneath her falling form. She had drifted in and out of consciousness for several hours before waking to the sunrise. And now she heard the first sounds of life surrounding her. There was the tolling of the bell from the cathedral; there was the sound of the cars rushing down the streets below. Santiago was waking just as she was, and she savored the sounds and the smells of life.
She had grown so used to the sight of darkness that it took several minutes before she realized that, while her senses were alive, she was still seeing black.
She fumbled to remove the blindfold that had been tied tightly around her head. The morning sun was just coming up and Salomé squinted into the valley where the city’s lights still twinkled in the haze.
Her fingers fell into the soil. Her knees, shaking and badly scraped, dragged underneath her tired frame. She tried to gather herself, ignoring her bruises and her broken bones, to wander in the early hours of dawn and find her way back home to her husband and children, who lay sleeping in their beds nearly ten miles away.
She walked through the iron gate, her last ounces of strength nearly exhausted. As her hand went to turn the handle of the front door, her body collapsed like a basket weakened by the rain; a whisper of an echo falling to the ground.
Octavio rushed to investigate the disturbance on the front porch, cautious that it might be someone who had come to harm either him or the children. When he opened the door and found his wife splayed out before him, he fell to his knees.
As he held her to his chest, he could feel the sharp wings of her shoulder blades, the narrow barrel of her rib cage. She was so delicate that he was afraid to move her, fearful she might tear. So, she lay in his arms, lavender and shriveled, a dying delphinium, dehydrated and torn.
Octavio had no time to wash and care for his wife before their children arrived at the front door and saw her. They barely recognized their mother. Her hair was wild and matted below her shoulders. Her dress was torn and her left breast was partially exposed from a long rip that extended across half the neckline.
She was a fraction of the size she had been before they had taken her. Never a large woman, she had been petite but curvaceous. Now, she appeared almost childlike. A tattered orphan whose complexion was marred by swatches of dirt and patches of bleeding bruises.
Octavio guided his wife into the kitchen and sat her down on one of the dining room chairs. She could see her children before her. She was unable to muster even the slightest sound. She wanted to tell them how much she had missed them, how she had dreamt of them every night since she had been away, but her voice faltered. She could not speak. She just remained in the chair, her fingers shaking in her lap and her eyes staring wide.
Salomé didn’t want the children to be afraid of her. She could only imagine what a sight she must be to them. She couldn’t remember the last time she had bathed, the last time a comb had been run through her hair. All she wanted to do was to sleep and be able to embrace those three small faces she had missed.
It was her eldest child, however, who had the courage to embrace her as she so desperately craved. Rafael did not hesitate. He walked right up to his mother and hugged her.
She did not wince as her eldest squeezed her, even though his embrace felt so powerful that, inside, she screamed. He pulled back her hair, ignoring the lice and the tangles, and kissed her cheek. “Welcome home, Mama,” he whispered, and whirled around to make sure that his younger sisters would not be afraid and would also welcome her back.
First, the middle one came up to her, then the youngest. Each of them fighting hard to ignore her smell and to smile.
Salomé began to cry. Not because of her physical pain, for she had grown used to that. She cried because Octavio, their children, and their home appeared the same as when she had left. But she had returned so very different.
That was a deceptive impression, for they had indeed changed over the past two months. And even before that. From the moment the coup had begun, the Ribeiro-Herrera family’s idyllic world had ceased to exist. The effects of the coup and the consequences of Octavio’s actions were still unraveling before them.
As Salomé struggled to embrace her children, her own mother returned. Doña Olivia walked into the kitchen carrying two loaves of bread. Octavio had not asked her to do the errand, but she had risen early, as she often did. She had grown used to her inability to sleep and tried to at least make herself useful in her waking hours. But she had not anticipated seeing her child upon her return. Resting on a stool, her daughter, with a penitent Octavio kneeling at her side.
Doña Olivia dropped the loaves of bread and rushed to embrace her child. She took the towel from Octavio and pressed her daughter’s palms to her own cheeks, weeping as she touched her daughter’s face, cursing the monsters who were responsible for such a horrendous crime.
Over the next week, Salomé was cared for and waited upon by her mother as if she had been reborn an infant. Doña Olivia brushed her daughter’s hair each morning and recombed it each evening, so that it finally returned to its original luster. She perfumed it with a spray made from diffused gardenia and bee balm, and curled the ends into tiny ringlets by twisting the strands tightly around her finger.
On the outside, Octavio’s wife appeared like a wounded empress. Her regal bone structure was even more evident than before, for now her maternal roundness had vanished. Over the week, her almond skin resurfaced and the bruises were absorbed. But still she remained fragile. She refused to speak of the deta
ils of her kidnapping, and Octavio did not press her. He was just so grateful that she had been returned. He knew that they were already more fortunate than so many others. For, each of the two times Salomé was kidnapped, she was eventually returned. Should there be a third time, they might not be so lucky.
On the eighth night following her return, Octavio held his wife and told her that they would have to leave Chile. “It is not safe for us here any longer,” he whispered to her while she lay in their large, canopied bed. “Sweden has accepted our application for political asylum.”
Salomé heard him but did not answer. But, the next day, she rose from her bed and began packing. Octavio noticed, as he labeled the five boxes to be shipped to Sweden, that his wife had not packed their old Victrola. He thought that strange, but he did not question her. Although she might not want the old machine now, Octavio thought one day she might regret not having it. So he opened one of the half-filled boxes and packed it anyway, believing someday his wife would thank him for his foresight.
More than twenty-three years had passed before Salomé could listen to music without being reminded of the terror it had once caused her. It seemed ironic, then, that on the afternoon that the letter arrived, her old Victrola was humming in the background, the needle skipping over Satie’s lonely notes.
After carefully reading the words, she folded the letter neatly into thirds and placed it in her desk drawer. Her skin was cold and her body shivered.
She went over to the gramophone, rested her hand on the shiny black horn, and released the arm. The music ceased as the record slowed its spin. Salomé was soothed by the silence that followed, relieved that the only sounds the music masked were the icy gusts rattling a half-opened window.
Inside there was darkness and outside it was dusk. It was only 3 P.M., but night had already arrived in the Swedish sky.
Aside from the cold air that penetrated the apartment, Salomé’s apartment appeared tropical. When her children visited, they knew that, no matter where their mother lived, she possessed a divine ability to re-create their Santiago childhood home. The rooms smelled of dried geranium leaves, eucalyptus, and wild mint, for she had hidden tiny sachets filled with these fragrant leaves throughout the house, and had covered the walls with old cinema posters of their father, from when he had been famous. She had created small collections from things she had found—things that people had disposed of thinking they were of no value. But she treasured them, those displaced things, and amongst the shelves lined with beach glass and dried lemons and pears, she gave them a home.