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The Stolen Child

Review

The Stolen Child

In a trench dug in the French countryside during World War I, a young American solider named Nick Burns tries to deal with the horrors through art. During the anxious quiet moments in combat, he paints a picture on the walls of the trench. It’s a scene of home and the people he misses most, bisected with the image of the Charles River. When a shadow moves across his work, and a voice comments on his mural, his life changes even more dramatically.

The shadow and the voice belong to Camille Chastain, a very pregnant woman and an artist herself on whose property the trench is dug. Nick falls in love with Camille over the course of their brief conversations. Then, as the Germans approach the battlefield, Camille hands over precious items to Nick for safekeeping. This moment of fraught and not exactly welcomed gifting sets in motion the physical and emotional action in Ann Hood’s latest novel, THE STOLEN CHILD.

"[T]he narrative is engaging and entertaining with interesting and nuanced characters. THE STOLEN CHILD is a sweet and charming tale of love, purpose and self-acceptance."

When Camille decides to flee the Germans, she leaves Nick her newborn son and a few small paintings. She asks that he get her baby to safety. However, Nick leaves the child without waiting to ensure that he will be taken care of; over the decades, this decision haunts him. In 1974, an elderly and dying Nick resolves to find the baby and enlists the help of Jenny, a young college dropout working as a waitress and mourning some losses of her own.

Nick and Jenny head to France and then to Italy, with very little information to go on, to try to discover the fate of Camille’s son. In their travels, they begin to heal wounds and find a sense of peace about the choices they have made and the relationships they have had and lost. Jenny’s optimism and enthusiasm don’t get rid of Nick’s pessimistic grumpiness, but they do alter it, and the two work well together. They are accompanied by Charlie Reynolds, a romantic tour guide, and all three are united by various degrees of possibility and hopefulness.

The story of the search for the baby is intercut with that of an Italian man named Enzo and his Museum of Tears, which he founds after a chance encounter in 1935. Like Jenny and Nick, Enzo --- a creative thinker who is often misunderstood --- is trying to keep his sorrows from subsuming his joy.

Readers may have to suspend disbelief just a bit, but that won’t sully the experience of this thoughtful novel. Hood does a wonderful job allowing the setting to help tell the story, which adds to the overall richness of the book. From the French countryside to Rhode Island, from Paris to Naples to Capri, and from diners to museums, she lets her characters explore the world as they explore their own emotions and motivations, needs and choices. Nick, Jenny, Enzo and others experience a lot of heartbreak, but they remain resilient and trusting at their cores.

While Hood’s reveals are not especially surprising, the narrative is engaging and entertaining with interesting and nuanced characters. THE STOLEN CHILD is a sweet and charming tale of love, purpose and self-acceptance.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 15, 2024

The Stolen Child
by Ann Hood