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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"The Good Thief" by Hannah Tinti (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official Hannah Tinti Website
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INTRODUCTION:The Good Thief” is the debut novel of Hannah Tinti, a master storyteller whose collection of short stories, “Animal Crackers”, I intend to read soon. I discovered “The Good Thief” by chance browsing online and was intrigued by the blurb. It was the excerpt that hooked me though and as soon as I started the book, I couldn’t put it down until I had finished the novel…

SETTING: In New England, sometime in the second half of the nineteenth century, Ren—a one-handed orphan boy named after the initials sewn in his collar—has been deposited as a newborn on the steps of Saint Anthony, a catholic monastery that functions as an orphanage for boys.

From this orphanage local people, and sometimes strangers, come and pick up a child either for help on a farm or claiming to be a relative. The monks acquiesce in this since the boys are otherwise conscripted into the army when discharged from the orphanage.

Due to his infirmity, Ren is not eligible to be picked up by a local farmer even though he is a presentable boy and looks strong and intelligent. One day however, a young man called Benjamin Nab appears at St. Anthony claiming to be the long lost elder brother of the twelve-year-old Ren and the adventure begins…

FORMAT/INFO:The Good Thief” stands at 327 pages divided over three parts, thirty-five numbered chapters, and an epilogue. The story is narrated in the third-person present tense and follows the character of Ren. The ending is excellent and fitting, bringing together all of the novel’s main threads.

July 10, 2008 marked the UK Hardcover (see inset) publication of “The Good Thief” via
Headline Review. The US version was released on August 26, 2008 via The Dial Press. Cover illustration was provided by David Frankland.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: Hannah Tinti’sThe Good Thief” invites comparison with classic adventure tales and orphan narratives. With an action-packed plot and a well researched recreation of several small New England towns of the epoch, Tinti pulls her readers into a story about stories, in which we meet various strange, weird, and sometimes kind and sometimes downright frightening characters each with their own tale that interweave in a rich tapestry that Ren threads and unifies…

One of the most compelling characters in the book is Benjamin Nab whose stories about bandits, dead parents, sailing to exotic places, encountering fabulous animals, searching for his missing younger brother across the years, and many other fascinating adventures are undeniably charming. Of course, the reality is a bit disappointing as Benjamin is a con man and wanted by the government.

Plot-wise, a one-handed boy opens many doors to an expert trickster with a golden tongue so it’s not long before Ren is sucked deeper and deeper into the shady world—carnival tricks and nightly grave robberies—of Benjamin Nab and his associates, forcing the boy to grow up fast and make unexpected friends.

However, deeper and darker secrets revolve around Ren's true name and parentage and the slowly unfolding saga of tricks, deceits, and violence—offset by acts of kindness, love and redemption—ends with several stunning revelations that make us reconsider everything that has gone before and compels an immediate rereading of the book…

When I was a child I read the famous Hector Malot tale (Sans Famille) of the orphan boy Remi and the traveling performer that “buys” him from his adopted family dozens of times, and “The Good Thief” struck me as a more adult and darker version of that tale, but with a similar message of powerful redemption. And like “Sans Famille”, I expect to reread “The Good Thief” dozens of more times. Highly, highly recommended…


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