Summary and book reviews of The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

The Stolen Child

A Novel

By Keith Donohue

The Stolen Child
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  • Hardcover: May 2006,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: May 2007,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

Inspired by the W.B. Yeats poem that tempts a child from home to the waters and the wild, The Stolen Child is a modern fairy tale narrated by the child Henry Day and his double.

On a summer night, Henry Day runs away from home and hides in a hollow tree. There he is taken by the changelings—an unaging tribe of wild children who live in darkness and in secret. They spirit him away, name him Aniday, and make him one of their own. Stuck forever as a child, Aniday grows in spirit, struggling to remember the life and family he left behind. He also seeks to understand and fit in this shadow land, as modern life encroaches upon both myth and nature.

In his place, the changelings leave a double, a boy who steals Henry’s life in the world. This new Henry Day must adjust to a modern culture while hiding his true identity from the Day family. But he can’t hide his extraordinary talent for the piano (a skill the true Henry never displayed), and his dazzling performances prompt his father to suspect that the son he has raised is an imposter. As he ages the new Henry Day becomes haunted by vague but persistent memories of life in another time and place, of a German piano teacher and his prodigy. Of a time when he, too, had been a stolen child. Both Henry and Aniday obsessively search for who they once were before they changed places in the world.

The Stolen Child is a classic tale of leaving childhood and the search for identity. With just the right mix of fantasy and realism, Keith Donohue has created a bedtime story for adults and a literary fable of remarkable depth and strange delights.

CHAPTER 1

Don’t call me a fairy. We don’t like to be called fairies anymore. Once upon a time, fairy was a perfectly acceptable catchall for a variety of creatures, but now it has taken on too many associations. Etymologically speaking, a fairy is something quite particular, related in kind to the naiads, or water nymphs, and while of the genus, we are sui generis. The word fairy is drawn from fay (Old French fee), which itself comes from the Latin Fata, the goddess of fate. The fay lived in groups called the faerie, between the heavenly and earthly realms.

There exist in this world a range of sublunary spirits that carminibus coelo possunt deducere lunam, and they have been divided since ancient times into six kinds: fiery, aerial, terrestrial, watery, subterranean, and the whole class of fairies and nymphs. Of the sprites of fire, water, and air, I know next to nothing. But the terrestrial and underground devils I know all too well, and of ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Discussion Questions

  1. The very first words out of Henry Day's mouth are "Don't call me a fairy," and then he takes the reader on a quasi-scientific account of the differences between fairies, hobgoblins, and other "sublunary spirits." Yet Aniday and the rest of the changelings refer to themselves as faeries throughout the book. Why does Henry insist on not being called a fairy? In what other ways does Henry attempt to distance himself from his prior life?
     
  2. Twins and other twosomes figure predominantly in the book: Henry and Aniday, Tess and Speck, Big Oscar and Little Oscar, Edward and Gustav, Mary and Elizabeth. Other characters form pairs: Luchog and Smaolach, Kivi and Blomma, Onions ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

The Stolen Child is one of those out-of-the-box type novels that tend to either miss by a mile or, like The Time Traveler's Wife, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, or The Life of Pi, hit a nerve with people and become tremendously popular. The Stolen Child's blend of fantasy and realism combined with a classic search for identity story should place it firmly in the latter category.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (424 words).

Media Reviews
USA Today

Fascinating...Donohue paints a vivid picture of American life from the 1950s into the 1970s and the pressures on a boy who, in addition to not being entirely human, is growing up in the Vietnam War era, when attitudes toward sex, drugs, and patriotism were undergoing a sea change....Anidays's story is set in the cool forest where the forever children live off the lush land except for forays into town to steal supplies and perform random acts of mischief. It is a world threatened by civilization, an encroachment that pushes the present and former Henrys toward each other. Both sides of this story are poignant and beautifully told.

Entertainment Weekly

An ingenious, spirited allegory for adolescent angst, aging, the purpose of art, etc., that digs deep. Grade: A.

Publishers Weekly

An impressive novel of outsiders whose feelings of alienation are more natural than supernatural.

Library Journal

A haunting, unusual first novel, The Stolen Child is recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

Take that, Bilbo Baggins! Donohue's sparkling debut especially delights because, by surrounding his fantasy with real-world, humdrum detail, he makes magic believable.

Scotland on Sunday

A welcome addition to the field of contemporary fantasy…sparklingly quirky... Overall it is a gently redemptive parable about becoming oneself.

Author Blurb Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife
The Stolen Child is unsentimental and vividly imagined. Keith Donohue evokes the otherworldly with humor and the ordinary with wonder. I enjoyed it immensely.

Reader Reviews
Diana

Amazing.
Just amazing. I felt so bad when I had to close the book one last time, and had to say goodbye to Mota and Aniday (forgive me if I don't know the names in English. There was one copy left at the bookstore, it was in Spanish and that book just lured ...   Read More

Elizabeth

Haunting
Fairies, trees, switching places, family, trust, secrets, longing to return........ Henry Day was tired of babysitting his sisters and ran into the woods after his mother insisted that he help more with them. The changelings took him that very ...   Read More

Valerie

Love this story
I first rented this as an audio book for a long road trip, I absolutely fell in love with the story and purchased the book as soon as I arrived at my destination. The imagery and simple story telling captivate me and I have read the book at least ...   Read More

Aledrain

A woven masterpiece of a story
Stolen Child is a great book, and recommend to all ages. The book is at first tedious, but then you get to the core and you can't wait to see what comes next, and you began to see the real story behind it all, the alienation folds away, and there ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Stolen Child is Keith Donohue's first novel. He lives in Maryland, near Washington, D.C. and was, for many years, a speechwriter at the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Stolen Child is inspired by the poem of the same name by W.B. Yeats (bio).

Yeats first published The Stolen Child in The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889), the volume of poetry that established his reputation. This is the first verse:

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water-rats;
There we've hid our faery vats,
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For...

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