World War II novel winning plaudits for Fairfield University professor


After encouraging students with their writing for many years, Dr. Nicholas Rinaldi, professor of English at Fairfield University, is taking center stage with his second novel, "The Jukebox Queen of Malta," a story about the redemptive powers of love set against the epic struggle of war.

Already released in London and due out in the United States in June, the book has won high praise from literary giants Joseph Heller and Richard Russo and enthusiastic reviews from Publishers Weekly and the Library Journal. And in keeping with the computer technology of today's classrooms, the book will be available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Simonsays.com. Of course the book will also receive wide distribution in book stores and the book's publisher, Simon & Shuster is already scheduling readings by Dr. Rinaldi at several sites.

The world of book promotion is somewhat alien to the college professor who jokes good-naturedly, that writing the book was the easy part. But the enthusiastic response to his new book indicates it's a world he is going to have to become used to.

Set in Malta during World War II, "The Jukebox Queen" tells the story of U.S. Army Corporal Rocco Raven, who has been sent to join a small American liaison team, never expecting to find love amid the terror and devastation of the bombing. Inexperienced, young, and far from Brooklyn, where he worked on secondhand cars, Rocco arrives in Malta during an air attack.

After scrambling to safety, Rocco learns not only that he was sent there by mistake, but that his commanding officer, Major Webb, is dead. His new CO, the larger-than-life wheeling and dealing Lieutenant Fingerly, has an evil genius for turning the misfortunes of war into profit for himself.

As starvation looms and desperation grows, Rocco discovers an island of emotional extremes and infectious eccentricity. Amid the madness of war he encounters the love of his life, the beautiful, ethereal Melita Azzard, known as the Jukebox Queen of Malta. Melita delivers jukeboxes made from old automobile and gramophone parts by her cousin, a dwarfish man with a clubfoot. Rinaldi brings his characters to life by brilliantly weaving their stories with fascinating descriptions of Malta during the siege.

And while "The Jukebox Queen of Malta" is a love story, it is also an adventure in history, providing a focus on a key turning point in the early part of the war. Despite the siege, bombers from Malta continued to attack supply ships heading for Rommel's troops in North Africa and made a significant contribution to Rommel's failure in the African campaign. Malta's fortitude and refusal to surrender led President Franklin Roosevelt to describe Malta as "one tiny bright flame in the darkness."

The enthusiastic review by Publishers Weekly noted, "Rinaldi's voice is distinct in its honest portrayal of a people-long deprived of food, information and entertainment-struggling to reconnect to the world ... This is a compelling tale of lovers straining to hear the music through the din of a war-ravaged planet."

Making a contemporary link, The Library Journal review said, "This masterful second novel ... paints a rich and compelling portrait of the war-torn island, serving as a literary counterpoint to the modern-day madness in Kosovo." Comparing the book to Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient," the review said Dr. Rinaldi's novel was "more readable" and "no less a skilled tour de force and equally prize-worthy."

Dr. Rinaldi's first novel, "Bridge Fall Down," won comparisons to Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller, who in his book jacket endorsement calls the new novel, "a beguiling, romantic story in an illuminating and surprising setting." Novelist and screenwriter Richard Russo, author of "Straight Man" and "Nobody's Fool," writes, "I hope this year will offer us another novel as smart and hilarious and magical as Nicholas Rinaldi's 'The Jukebox Queen of Malta,' but I'm not holding my breath."

Dr. Rinaldi initially planned to write a novella of under a hundred pages, but his research and a trip to Malta quickly convinced him there was a larger story to tell. The book, rooted in realistic detail, "would not have been written," he says, "had I not wandered off, almost by accident, into the chronicles and historical narratives that tell of Malta's suffering during the disastrous siege that began in June of 1940 and persisted into the final months of 1942."

Dr. Rinaldi's stories and poems have appeared widely in literary journals both here and abroad. In addition to his first novel, he is the author of three collections of poetry, "The Resurrection of the Snails," "We have Lost Our Fathers," and "The Luftwaffe in Chaos." He teaches courses in literature and creative writing at Fairfield University in Connecticut, where he resides with his wife, Jacqueline.

To arrange an interview with Dr. Rinaldi or to review his book, please call Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on May 1, 1999

Vol. 31, No. 296