by Fernanda Eberstadt
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Fernanda Eberstadt grew up on Park Avenue, in a wealthy bohemian family that threw parties attended by the likes of Jackie Kennedy. Recalling her childhood home, she wrote in the New York Observer, "There was a gold Andy Warhol Marilyn in the living room and an alabaster statue of a panther from a Greek temple." She published her first book at twenty-five, and her novels chronicled a Manhattan that counterposed intelligence and money in a most delicious way. Eberstadt specialized in witty, sharply observed class collisions, such as the love affair in The Furies (2003) between uptown highflier Gwen and Lower East Side eccentric Gideon (leader of the Pants on Fire puppet troupe) or the entanglement between Minimalist-art collector Dolly and Basquiat-esque artist Isaac in When the Sons of Heaven Meet the Daughters of the Earth (1997).
But in the late '90s, Eberstadt left New York and moved to Perpignan, a French city near the Spanish border. There she wrote Little Money Street (2006), a fascinating account of the local Gypsy clans she befriended. Eberstadt found in Perpignan "an older, shabbier, weirder Europe of my childhood dreams, a Europe which I imagined to have been effaced by decades of postwar prosperity." This shabby, weird Europe—a coastal town in southern France awash in ethnic violence and populated by Gypsies, immigrants, and the French equivalent of white trash—is the backdrop for her fifth novel, Rat, a strange and sometimes enchanting coming-of-age tale.
Eberstadt's fascination with people who live on the fringes, whether starving artists or Romany musicians,