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Rivers, Book 1


In 1908 two Irish American brothers leave their jobs on the docks of Hoboken, NJ to make their fortune tapping rubber trees in the South American rainforest. They expect to encounter floods, snakes, malaria, extreme hunger and unfriendly competitors, but nothing prepares them for the psychological hurdles that will befall them.


BEFORE WE DIED, the first in a three-book "rivers" series, is a literary adventure novel set against the background of the South American rubber boom, a fascinating but little known historical moment. 

"Descriptions are memorable and the adventures here will satisfy."

Booklife, Publishers Weekly

"An exciting fictional account that explores the very real issues around the consequences of greed and misunderstanding between cultures. Schweighardt’s story happened with rubber tappers a century ago; it continues today around oil, lumber, cattle, soy, and the mining of crystals and other resources. This book, besides being a good read, is a wake-up call!"

John PerkinsNew York Times Bestselling Author 

Before We Died explores the complexities of the relationship between two Irish-American brothers who embark on an Amazonian adventure fraught with peril. With her signature blend of literary elegance and heart-thrilling suspense, Schweighardt weaves an enticing, early-twentieth-century tale of passion, greed and sacrifice which will leave readers reaching for the next novel in the Rivers series!”
Kristen Harnisch, International bestselling author of The Vintner's Daughter and The California Wife

Before We Died is an impeccably researched and engrossing story that reads so quickly you hardly notice how strong and pervasive the underlying themes are. The story pivots around the abuses of power, greed and exploitation, around cruelty and empathy and what makes a human. Though historically powerful in the context of this particular story, these concepts remain deeply relevant to the world we live in today.” —Magdalena Ball, Compulsive Reader


“With great skill, Schweighardt brings to magnificent life the colors, smells and sounds of Amazonia in this compelling tale of love, loss and honest men butting heads with privilege and greed.”
Damian McNicholl, author of A Son Called Gabriel and The Moment of Truth


 “…compelling characters that throb with vibrancy and passion… The story conveys an epic scope, taking the reader across countries and also the vast inner landscape of human desire where the hunger for meaning and love intersects with the suffering of loss and redemption. Beautiful and enthralling…, impossible to forget.” —Rocco Lo Bosco, author of Staying Sane in Crazy Town, Ninety-nine and other novels, and co-author of The Age of Perversion: Desire and Technology in Psychoanalysis and Culture


“Original, beautifully researched, and frequently shocking…  The novel's narrator, Jack Hopper, is the perfect guide—bawdy, brutally honest, brave, and sometimes overwhelmed... An adventure story that takes you into the steamy heart of the Amazon jungle as confidently as it explores the passions and confusions of the human heart…, will leave you breathless and wanting more.”  —Julie Mars, author of A Month of Sundays: Searching for the Spirit and My Sister and Anybody Any Minute and other novels

“ Schweighardt draws her glorious characters with such skill and affection that we are immediately pulled into their world—Jack and Bax, brothers, Irish, longshoremen whose loving but grieving Mum sends them into the grueling world of turn-of-the-century South American rubber industry on the advice of an old Italian fortuneteller. The author transports us to a fascinating, hardscrabble, well-researched world, and compels us to want to live there for every word of her story. I just love this story.”

Lynn Vannucci, Publisher, Water Street Press

“An unforgettable expedition. . . Superb!

(Four out of four stars)


Shortlisted for the 2017 SFWP Award


Rivers, Book 2


Jack Hopper is holding tight to his secret, though it gets heavier by the day. Nora Sweeny is tired of suffering losses and ready to improvise. Their relationship, based on Jack’s lies and Nora’s pragmatism, builds against a background that includes WWI (as experienced from the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey) and escalates when Jack and Nora travel together to the rainforests of South America seeking closure for a life-shattering event that occurred years earlier. Equal parts romance, adventure, and psychological suspense tale, Gifts for the Dead shines a floodlight on the characters’ deepest yearnings and greatest fears. 

Gifts for the Dead is both a standalone novel and the second installment in Schweighardt’s “rivers” trilogy.


It’s 1928 and Estela Euquério Hopper, an ambitious young woman from an impoverished area of Brazil, has landed a job at the NY Metropolitan Opera House, though only to work in the sewing room. Her good fortune is due in part to a unique and rigorous education provided to her (and a handful of other “river brats”) by a renowned educator and operatic vocal instructor from Portugal. The other part is due to the fact that her father is American. She hopes to make it from the Met sewing room to the Met stage, but there are three huge obstacles standing in her way: her father, her cousin (who has been kept in the dark regarding his own parentage), and the wild, anything goes, often violent temperament of New York City herself.

"Joan Schweighardt is a master of historical fiction. As with Before we DiedGifts for the Dead maintains a deep sense of reference for the natural world, for non-western forms of knowledge that are being lost, and for the enduring mystery and beauty of love. Though it’s a fine sequel, Gifts for the Dead can be read on its own. Schweighardt does a wonderful job of weaving the first book through the narrative subtly, picking up and expanding on some of the themes of the first book:  family ties and the sometimes wrought bond between siblings, the enduring nature of trauma and recovery, and the impact of greed on all that is precious in this world. Gifts for the Dead is a powerful and beautiful book that draws the reader in and doesn’t let go." —Magdalena Ball,


“A journey to South America to solve a family mystery leads to unexpected revelations and personal transformation in this meticulously researched, exquisitely rendered novel. Gifts for the Deadis a tale of life, death and discovery in the early 20th century, but it's also a love story and a sensitive exploration of what human beings will do to move beyond grief.”  

Faye Rapoport DesPres, author of Message from a Blue Jay: Love, Loss and One Writer’s Journey Home


“Every elegantly crafted scene in Joan Schweighardt’s Gifts for the Dead is a gift in itself––lush, perfectly detailed and fitted within a marvelous story of secrets, loss, love and adventure. This is a page turner whose intriguing and sweeping story immerses the reader in the experience of early 20th century America while shrewdly observing a socio-political atmosphere that echoes the one we currently inhabit.”

Rocco Lo Bosco, author of Staying Sane in Crazy Town: A Monologue of Rude Wisdom

"New York City and the fecund Amazon come alive in Schweighardt's rich tale of two young Brazilian immigrants arriving in late 1920's America to pursue their dreams."
Damian McNicholl, author of  The Moment of Truth and A Son Called Gabriel
"Schweighardt brings to life an exquisitely-detailed personal yet universal tale of the struggles of mixed-race immigrants to the United States, post-WWI. JoJo and Estela bear witness to prohibition, the beginnings of the Great Depression, and the near-destruction of Estela's white father, a man who years before survived the most brutal of losses. At once devastating yet full of redemption, River Aria stands on its own, and is as much a telling of our times as it is a study of an earlier era in world history. Evocative, heartrending, and not to be missed." 
Paula Coomer, author of Jagged Edge of the Sky and Somebody Should Have Scolded the Girl

"River Aria is an exquisitely written conclusion to the Rivers trio. Schweighardt creates rich layers of meaning through the three books, across settings that are sometimes sumptuous and sometimes desolate, but always rich in psychology, history, drama, theatre, and a very subtle political thread that hints at the power of compassion. It is certainly possible to read River Aria on its own, and Estela and Jo Jo make for engaging protagonists whose stories unfold with the grace of one of the operas Estela learns to sing. Taken collectively, however, the Rivers trilogy forms a grand epic that is irresistible."

—Magdalena Ball,

"The adventures here will satisfy." --PW


Audio Version

available NOW on Amazon, Audible & iTunes!

Before We Died, Rivers, Book 1.jpg

This book trailer was produced by filmmakers Jon Russell Cring and Tracy Cring. The rainforest photo was taken by photographer Michael Dooley.

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