The New York Times Book Review
The Good Thiefby Hannah Tinti
"Twelve-year-old Ren is missing his left hand. How it was lost is a mystery that Ren has been trying to solve for his entire life, as well as who his parents are, and why he was abandoned as an infant at Saint Anthony's Orphanage for boys. He longs for a family to call his own and is terrified of the day he will be sent alone into the world." But then a young man… See more details below
"Twelve-year-old Ren is missing his left hand. How it was lost is a mystery that Ren has been trying to solve for his entire life, as well as who his parents are, and why he was abandoned as an infant at Saint Anthony's Orphanage for boys. He longs for a family to call his own and is terrified of the day he will be sent alone into the world." But then a young man named Benjamin Nab appears, claiming to be Ren's long-lost brother, and his convincing tale of how Ren lost his hand and his parents persuades the monks at the orphanage to release the boy and to give Ren some hope. But is Benjamin really who he says he is? Journeying through a New England of whaling towns and meadowed farmlands, Ren is introduced to a vibrant world of hardscrabble adventure filled with outrageous scam artists, grave robbers, and petty thieves. If he stays, Ren becomes one of them. It he goes, he's lost once again. As Ren begins to find clues to his hidden parentage he comes to suspect that Benjamin not only holds the key to his future, but to his past as well.
The New York Times Book Review
The Washington Post
The New York Times
"Darkly transporting ... [In] The Good Thief, the reader can find plain-spoken fiction full of traditional virtues: strong plotting, pure lucidity, visceral momentum and a total absence of writerly mannerisms. In Ms. Tinti’s case that means an American Dickensian tale with touches of Harry Potterish whimsy, along with a macabre streak of spooky New England history."—New York Times
"Tinti, like John Barth with his postmodern picturesque classic, The Sot-Weed Factor, has created one of the freshest, most beguiling narratives this side of Oliver Twist."—O: The Oprah Magazine
"Hannah Tinti has written a lightning strike of a novel—beautiful and haunting and ever so bright. She is a 21st century Robert Louis Stevenson, an adventuress who lays bare her character's hearts with a precision and a fearlessness that will leave you shaken." —Junot Díaz, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
"The Good Thief's characters are weird and wonderful.... [It] has all the makings of a classic—a hero, a villain and a rollicking good tale set in 19th century New England about a good boy who gets mixed up with a lot of bad men.... All of that, along with its humor, ingenuity and fast pace, make The Good Thief compelling."—San Francisco Chronicle
“Ren lives every child's fantasy, to leave a mundane life for an adventure in which he discovers who he was supposed to be and who he could yet become…. [His] mischievous ways earned the character comparisons to Huck Finn and Oliver Twist. And the plot, which winds its way through a mousetrap factory and the memory of a family tragedy, certainly give him a literary playground in which to frolic.”—Associated Press
"The Good Thief is a dark, Dickensian fable filled with enough surprises to keep a reader turning pages long past midnight. Irresistibly strange, and just plain irresistible."—Karl Iagnemma
“The Good Thief is wry, wise, deeply felt and ingeniously plotted, a wonderful, riveting spin on the tale of abandoned boys gone bad, or good, or both. Move over Huck Finn and Oliver Twist, make room for Ren, The Good Thief's one handed but quick fingered and witted orphan, thief, hero — I loved him, and his book.” — Brock Clarke, author of An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
"The Good Thief is a book that deserves comparison to the work of classic authors like Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens—not only because it's a remarkable piece of work, but also because it reminded me of what it used to be like, when I was a kid, to be truly engrossed in a book. You lift your head and hours have passed, and you realize that you've been utterly drawn into a world that is as vivid and real as your own. A masterful achievement."—Dan Chaon, author of National Book Award finalist Among the Missing, and You Remind Me of Me
“The Good Thief is a magical book. Everything worth writing about is in it: love, death and—more than anything else—family. I wish I'd written it.”—Daniel Wallace author of Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician
"Hannah Tinti writes with uncommon grace and stunning insight. Her quirky tribe of outcasts will break into your dreams and steal your spirit. Surrender to them! Let your heart be broken! Only then will you know the tender thrill of their wild companionship. The Good Thief is pure delight. When you wake from this dream, you will wake bedazzled".—Melanie Rae Thon, author of Iona Moon and Sweet Hearts
“The key to Tinti's success with this novel is the constant tension between tenderness and peril, a tension that she ratchets up until the final pages…. [With] enough harrowing scrapes and turns to satisfy your inner Dickens.”—Washington Post Book World
“A debut novel so rich that you'll hope it becomes the first in a series…. Part coming-of-age tale and part pure adventure, The Good Thief evokes Charles Dickens with its blend of humor, social commentary and poignancy.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Tightly plotted, unmannered, irresistible. Tinti writes in a lean, pitch-perfect prose that grabs the reader's mind and won't let go. The incidents she relates are dark and grim, but the telling leaves room for humanity and humor.”—Orlando Sentinel
“Difficult to put down…A cavalcade of chase scenes, suspenseful moments and revelations.”—Seattle Times
“The kind of story that might have kept you reading all day when you were home sick from school…. Writing for adults while keeping to a child’s perspective isn’t easy, and Tinti makes it look effortless.”—New York Times Book Review
“Tinti secures her place as one of the sharpest, slyest young American novelists."—Entertainment Weekly (A-)
“[A] striking debut novel…Unfolds like a Robert Louis Stevenson tale retold amid the hardscrabble squalor of Colonial New England. The sheer strangeness of the story is beguiling…Good fun.”—The New Yorker
“A very good book indeed…Reminds you why you fell in love with reading in the first place…Tinti’s imaginative powers…reacquaint us with our own. And that’s a gift to be cherished…”—Boston Globe
“[A] dark but nimble variation on that favorite 19th-century literary trope, the woeful orphan story…. Ren becomes the surprising moral center of a colorful band of misfits and grave robbers. His sentimental education about what it means to be a ‘good’ boy makes for a Dickens of a tale.”—USAToday.com
"In her highly original debut novel, [Tinti] renders the horrors and wonders she concocts utterly believable and rich in implication as she creates a darkly comedic and bewitching, sinister yet life-affirming tale about the eternal battle between good and evil." —Booklist, starred review
“Ren, with his love for religion and penchant for thievery, is immediately likeable…. A novel full of scams, shams and underhanded deals and populated by hustlers, thieves and grave robbers.”—Publishers Weekly
“Marvelously satisfying...rich with sensory details, surprising twists and living, breathing characters to root for." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Bracing—and embracing … etches Hannah Tinti’s name on the literary map.”—Go: AirTran Magazine
- Mu Ma Wen Hua/Tsai Fong Books
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Read an ExcerptThe Good Thief
By Hannah Tinti
The Dial Press Copyright © 2008 Hannah Tinti
All right reserved.
The man arrived after morning prayers. Word spread quickly that someone had come, and the boys of Saint Anthony’s elbowed each other and strained to catch a glimpse as he unhitched his horse and led it to the trough for drinking. The man’s face was hard to make out, his hat pulled so far down that the brim nearly touched his nose. He tied the reins to a post and then stood there, patting the horse’s neck as it drank. The man waited, and the boys watched, and when the mare finally lifted its head, they saw the man lean forward, stroke the animal’s nose, and kiss it. Then he wiped his lips with the back of his hand, removed his hat, and made his way across the yard to the monastery.
Men often came for children. Sometimes it was for cheap labor, sometimes for a sense of doing good. The brothers of Saint Anthony’s would stand the orphans in a line, and the men would walk back and forth, inspecting. It was easy to tell what they were looking for by where their eyes went. Usually it was to boys almost fourteen, the taller ones, the loudest, the strongest. Then their eyes went down to the barely crawling, the stumbling two-year-olds—still untainted and fresh. This left the in-betweens— those who had lost their baby fat and curls but were not yet old enough to be helpful. These children were usually ill-tempered and had little to offer but lice and a bad case of the measles. Ren was one ofthem.
He had no memory of a beginning—of a mother or father, sister or brother. His life was simply there, at Saint Anthony’s, and what he remembered began in the middle of things—the smell of boiled sheets and lye; the taste of watery oatmeal; the feel of dropping a brick onto a piece of stone, watching the red pieces split off, then using those broken shards to write on the wall of the monastery, and being slapped for this, and being forced to wash the dust away with a cold, wet rag.
Ren’s name had been sewn into the collar of his nightshirt: three letters embroidered in dark blue thread. The cloth was made of good linen, and he had worn it until he was nearly two. After that it was taken away and given to a smaller child to wear. Ren learned to keep an eye on Edward, then James, then Nicholas—and corner them in the yard. He would pin the squirming child to the ground and examine the fading letters closely, wondering what kind of hand had worked them. The R and E were sewn boldly in a cross-stitch, but the N was thinner, slanting to the right, as if the person working the thread had rushed to complete the job. When the shirt wore thin, it was cut into bandages. Brother Joseph gave Ren the piece of collar with the letters, and the boy kept it underneath his pillow at night.
Ren watched now as the visitor waited on the steps of the priory. The man passed his hat back and forth in his hands, leaving damp marks along the felt. The door opened and he stepped inside. A few minutes later Brother Joseph came to gather the children, and said, “Get to the statue.”
The statue of Saint Anthony sat in the center of the yard. It was carved from marble, dressed in the robes of the Franciscan friars. The dome of Saint Anthony’s head was bald, with a halo circling his brow. In one hand he held a lily and in the other a small child wearing a crown. The child was holding out one palm in supplication and using the other to touch the saint’s cheek. There were times, when the sun receded in the afternoon and shadows played across the stone, that the touch looked more like a slap. This child was Jesus Christ, and the pairing was proof of Saint Anthony’s ability to carry messages to God. When a loaf of bread went missing from the kitchen, or Father John couldn’t find the keys to the chapel, the children were sent to the statue. Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, come bring what I’ve lost back to me.
Catholics were rare in this part of New England. A local Irishman who’d made a fortune pressing cheap grapes into strong port had left his vineyard to the church in a desperate bid for heaven before he died. The brothers of Saint Anthony were sent to claim the land and build the monastery. They found themselves surrounded by Protestants, who, in the first month of their arrival, burned down the barn, fouled the well, and caught two brothers after dark on the road and sent them home tarred and feathered.
After praying for guidance, the brothers turned to the Irishman’s winepress, which was still intact and on the grounds. Plants were sent from Italy, and after some trial and error the brothers matched the right vine with their stony New England soil. Before long Saint Anthony’s became well-known for their particular vintage, which they aged in old wooden casks and used for their morning and evening masses. The unconsecrated wine was sold to the local taverns and also to individual landowners, who sent their servants to collect the bottles in the night so that their neighbors would not see them doing business with Catholics.
Soon after this the first child was left. Brother Joseph heard cries one morning before sunrise and opened the door to find a baby wrapped in a soiled dress. The second child was left in a bucket near the well. The third in a basket by the outhouse. Girls were collected every few months by the Sisters of Charity, who worked in a hospital some distance away. What happened to them, no one knew, but the boys were left at Saint Anthony’s, and before long the monastery had turned into a de facto orphanage for the bastard children of the local townspeople, who still occasionally tried to burn the place to the ground.
To control these attempts at arson, the brothers built a high brick wall around the property, which sloped and towered like a fortress along the road. At the bottom of the wooden gate that served as the entrance they cut a small swinging door, and it was through this tiny opening that the babies were pushed. Ren was told that he, too, had been pushed through this gate and found the following morning, covered in mud in the prior’s garden. It had rained the night before, and although Ren had no memory of the storm, he often wondered why he had been left in bad weather. It always led to the same conclusion: that whoever had dropped him off could not wait to be rid of him.
The gate was hinged to open one way—in. When Ren pushed at the tiny door with his finger, he could feel the strength of the wooden frame behind it. There was no handle on the children’s side, no groove to lift from underneath. The wood was heavy, thick, and old—a fine piece of oak planed years before from the woods beyond the orphanage. Ren liked to imagine he felt a pressure in return, a mother reaching back through, changing her mind, groping wildly, a thin white arm.
Underneath Saint Anthony’s statue the younger boys fidgeted and pushed, the older ones cleared their throats nervously. Brother Joseph walked down the line and straightened their clothes, or spit on his hand and scrubbed their faces, bumping his large stomach into the children who had fallen out of place. He pushed it now toward a six-year-old who had suddenly sprung a bloody nose from the excitement.
“Hide it quick,” he said, shielding the boy with his body. Across the yard Father John was solemnly approaching, and behind him was the man who had kissed the horse.
He was a farmer. Perhaps forty years old. His shoulders were strong, his fingers thick with calluses, his skin the color of rawhide from the sun. There was a rash of brown spots across his forehead and the backs of his hands. His face was not unkind, and his coat was clean, his shirt pressed white, his collar tight against his neck. A woman had dressed him. So there would be a wife. A mother.
The man began to make his way down the line. He paused before two blond boys, Brom and Ichy. They were also in- betweens, twins left three winters after Ren. Brom’s neck was thicker, by about two inches, and Ichy’s feet were longer, by about two inches, but beyond those distinguishing characteristics it was hard to tell the boys apart when they were standing still. It was only when they were out in the fields working, or throwing stones at a pine tree, or washing their faces in the morning that the differences became clear. Brom would splash a handful of water over his head and be done with it. Ichy would fold a handkerchief into fourths, dab it into the basin, then set to work carefully and slowly behind his ears.
It was said that no one would adopt Brom and Ichy because they were twins. One was sure to be unlucky. Second-borns were usually considered changelings and drowned right after birth. But no one knew who came first, Brom or Ichy, so there was no way to tell where the bad luck was coming from. What the brothers needed to do was separate, make themselves look as different as possible. Ren kept this information to himself. They were his only friends, and he did not want to lose them.
Standing together now the twins grinned at the farmer, and then, suddenly, Brom threw his arms around his brother and attempted to lift him off the ground. He had done this once before, as a show of strength in front of two elderly gentlemen, and it had ended badly. Ren watched from the other end of the line as Ichy, taken by surprise, began to recite his multiplication tables, all the while struggling violently against his brother, to the point that one of his boots flew into the air and sailed past the farmer’s ear.
Father John kept a small switch up the sleeve of his robe, and he put it to work now on the twins, while Brother Joseph fetched Ichy’s boot and the farmer continued down the line. Ren put his arms behind his back and stood at attention. He held his breath as the man stopped in front of him.
“How old are you?”
Ren opened his mouth to answer, but the man spoke for him.
“You look about twelve.”
Ren wanted to say that he could be any age, that he could make himself into anything the man wanted, but instead he followed what he had been taught by the brothers, and said nothing.
“I want a boy,” said the farmer. “Old enough to help me work and young enough for my wife to feel she has a child. Someone who’s honest and willing to learn. Someone who can be a son to us.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice so that only Ren could hear him. “Do you think you could do that?”
Father John came up behind them. “You don’t want that one.”
Excerpted from The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti Copyright © 2008 by Hannah Tinti. Excerpted by permission.
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