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THE STOLEN CHILD by Ann Hood Kirkus Star


by Ann Hood

Pub Date: May 7th, 2024
ISBN: 9780393609806
Publisher: Norton

In the 1970s, haunted by a choice he made during World War I, an elderly Rhode Island man enlists the help of a college dropout in a last-ditch attempt to make amends.

Shortly after the U.S. enters World War I in 1917, Nick Burns finds himself on a farm in rural France. He’s killing time by painting a mural on a stone wall when he meets one of the farm’s residents, a feisty young woman named Camille Chastain, who dismisses his mural as the work of an amateur. While married and heavily pregnant, Camille has no aspirations to be a wife or a mother, only an artist. When German forces reach Nick’s trench amid bursts of artillery fire one night, she appears holding two bundles—her newborn son and an array of paintings—and entrusts him with their safety before fleeing into the nearby woods. What Nick does next dogs him for decades. Upon returning to the U.S., Nick tries to resume life but can’t forget about Camille or her child. Despite marrying another woman, he spends the next 57 years tortured by the seeming impossibility of discovering their fates. In 1974, isolated, depressed, and bitter, he receives a strange new lease on life: a terminal cancer diagnosis. Motivated by the knowledge that his time is limited, Nick and newly hired assistant Jenny, an IHOP waitress reeling from the unexpected derailment of her college career, embark on a search for answers that takes them through France and Italy before concluding at a derelict exhibit once run by Enzo Piccolo, a Neapolitan artisan. In traveling with Nick, Jenny hopes to see the world and, maybe, find her own place in it. Told in chapters that alternate among three perspectives—Nick’s, Jenny’s, and Enzo’s—the story is compelling, skillfully told, and meticulously structured, though a few beats veer a little too close to cliche to ring entirely true. Of particular note are Hood’s detailed descriptions of the different historical settings (Paris, small-town France, Rome, Tuscany, Naples), which feel rooted in research and heighten the authenticity of the narrative.

A well-crafted, fast-paced story about how a single encounter can shape a person’s whole life.