River of Angels
When a prostitute is beaten on a Caribbean island, no one realizes that this seemingly minor event will light a fuse to blow apart the old, corrupt social order. Pursuing healing for the wounded young woman and for other poor workers, members of the community become targets of ruthless entrepreneurs planning to reap big profits while despoiling the island’s rich environment:
~ Monica, a prostitute by choice, controls every aspect of her life and her bordello, until her world crumbles and she must make hard decisions.
~ Rosie, an American professor and healer, must forsake the comfortable roles of teacher and wife as she faces her husband’s involvement in the schemes.
~ Pide, a homeless beggar, brings unexpected wisdom, humor, and friendship to those he touches.
~ Abuelita and Don Tuto, leaders of the island outcasts who live in the darkness of its vast cave system fed by an underground river, guide the way toward a new relationship with the land.
Why I wrote River of Angels
I lived in Puerto Rico for almost eight years. It was here that I learned to see life in full color, to put aside my own ideas of right and wrong, black and white. Through a story of incredible characters based on people I knew and an island I loved, I tried to make sense of its complex culture.
Q & A about River of Angels
Tell us a little about the plot of your book River of Angels.
River of Angels takes place on a tropical island in the Caribbean. While I don’t state that the island is Puerto Rico, because I have moved geography around and events, the plot centers on all the social and political nuances that occurred while I lived there. The story examines the many layers of life compressed into a finite area and examines the lives of individuals caught between what society expects and accepts versus the individual’s true self. There are five main characters that drive the story, but the island and the Latino Culture with all its complexities becomes a character as well. Monica, a prostitute by choice, controls every aspect of her life, until her world crumbles. Forced to feel, give and receive love, she learns how to take risks that are more worthy and dangerous than her present profession.
Rosie, an American professor and healer, forsakes the comfortable roles of teacher and wife until she unravels her father’s past to discover love and happiness. Carlos, Rosie’s husband and successful entrepreneur, slowly and painfully watches his certainty dissolve as his beliefs are questioned. Pide, the homeless beggar, brings wisdom, humor and friendship to those he watches. He is a surprise character– the one who insisted on coming alive on the pages. Abuelita and Don Tuto, the stable elders, lead others to safety, as they resolve history’s hold on the their present life. Jesus’ and Carmen’s violent encounter questions the the island culture and forces change and renewal.
The themes of drug dealing, prostitution, urban growth , environmental destruction, are backdrops to these characters’ inner stories. Their lives take you into two worlds, the one society accepts and the underground world of the caves and its rivers. When the worlds merge, the river floods, the caves are threatened along with the people. Change, renewal, loss, selflessness and hope create a new sanctuary for all to realign their lives.
What was your inspiration for the book?
I lived in Puerto Rico for almost eight years. It was here that I learned to see life in full color, to put aside my own ideas of right and wrong, black and white. By letting go of trying to make sense of a culture, I learned to accept and see the complexities of another way of life. The island and its people had a hold on me that changed how I see the world. I wanted to inspire readers to feel more, and judge less harshly.
How much does your writing draw from research versus experience?
This book and everything I write, draws from my life experiences and a huge amount of research. I could only write about Puerto Rico in a fictional sense after I have been gone from the island for 15 years. I melded the characters from aspects of many people I knew or met. My descriptions of caves are based on readings concerning the discovery of the Rio Camuy caves– knowledgeable islanders and of course entering the caves on my own discovery expedition.. The Deming Library sourced information from all over the country.
Tell us a little about your writing process.
I write what I know or feel. Often times I’ll get a whiff of an idea that tugs at my heart. Vines and how they entwine, get stronger, but also how they can strangle. That idea will stay put until a character pops into my head, then I start researching vines, and suddenly a story will evolve. I write essays about life sometimes poems that are personal. The thoughts may be used later in a larger piece. For my novels, I can’t put pen to paper until I have my characters. Once I have my characters I write down everything I know about them, how they eat, what kind of a student they were. So that when I have them come alive in the novel, the dialogues and back stories flow easier.
For the novel Color of Lies, the second book in the series, I had the main character and idea for over a year. When the other four characters revealed themselves to me then I began writing. I have a notebook with dividers with all my research on place, plants, systems, history, etc. I usually know the beginning and end of the story before I begin. The characters give me the middle.
Do you primarily consider River of Angels Latino/Hispanic literature or is that simply one category the book falls under?
River of Angels, is a story that expresses my love of the island, Puerto Rico, and its culture. I would hope that a Latino reader would say– yes, Abbe feels our culture with her heart and be able to recognize the nuances that make their view unique. However, I see River of Angels on many shelves. It is an adventure story, one for anyone who wants to travel. It is a nature story as well as a human story. I was happy to hear from three male Latino readers who found the book authentic and compelling and since I was not born in a Latino country I can not make a claim that I am a Latino author. I lived in Aguadilla, PR for eight years, owned a bookstore and stopped speaking English when I arrived. I don’t know if being fluent in Spanish and being able to crack a joke in Spanish qualifies me as anything but a funny “gringa”. My nickname there was “Mama Gordita”, Fat Mama.
River of Angels does what the very best books do—it paints pictures of a place one has never been, people one has never met, and situations one has never encountered, and makes them real. There are no cardboard characters here and no theater-flat settings. Rolnick weaves a story of tangled relationships and intrigue on a tropical Caribbean island where everyone is struggling, sometimes within themselves, to make a life. I love the way she has seamlessly woven Spanish words and phrases into the book, making the setting even more real. This is a great debut novel, and I look forward to her next book.
~Chuck Robinson, Co-Owner, Village Books, Bellingham WA
There are problems on this island, Carlos, but you are too busy to see this. If someone disagrees too loudly, they are gone. If you weren’t my husband, I too might disappear.” So where are the disappeared to be found? Rosie knows where some are, and Carlos would like to know as well. A story with twists, turns and clearly delineated characters, River of Angels carries the reader on a journey from beach to cave to dark deals in the local cafe & ultimately into the hearts of all.
~Frances Barbagallo, Librarian, Deming WA
River of Angels explores. From the caring descriptions of the landscape with unusual woods and trees and exotic underground caves and rivers, this book is a journey of the senses to Puerto Rico where the author lived for seven years. The sights and smells are rich in themselves, but the characters are what make this book come to life in a unique way, with cultural nuances, facts, and stories. Some of the characters are based on the author’s relationships and all are treated with a combination of respect, curiosity, wonder, and affection that ensure they will endure. A very unique read about a neighbor worth knowing.
~Joan Arioldi, Library Director
Abbe Rolnick’s novel begins at a zip along pace. It builds and blends out-of-the-ordinary characters and intrigue into an island fever of a stew. The tropical setting serves as quite a cauldron — there is mystery, politics, sex, folks of good and evil intent, greed and the wonders of nature. Rolnick very skillfully charts all these courses and has an excellent eye for the details of her character’s emotional lives. That talent for detail is also demonstrated in her portrayal of the island’s landscape, in which a massive cave system feels like a living organism and real character within the novel. Atmospheric, intricately plotted and fast paced, River of Angels is a dive into an exotic, dangerous and sultry world.
~Shelley Ring Diamond, Author, Los Angeles CA
Many photos on this site and in Abbe’s Notes are copyright by Jim Wiggins.