The Thief of Words

Overview

A powerful and elegant novel about loss and possession, set in New York City and Africa.Young, and full of an unfathomed desire to immerse herself in Africa, Nora Fenton arrives as a volunteer in a coastal village in Sierra Leone: an American innocent, an accident waiting to happen. She has little understanding of the turbulence in her heart, of the complexities of race and religion in this place, or the hidden politics of the diamond trade. The layered account of her love affairs — prickly Aurelia, a South ...

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The Thief of Words

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Overview

A powerful and elegant novel about loss and possession, set in New York City and Africa.Young, and full of an unfathomed desire to immerse herself in Africa, Nora Fenton arrives as a volunteer in a coastal village in Sierra Leone: an American innocent, an accident waiting to happen. She has little understanding of the turbulence in her heart, of the complexities of race and religion in this place, or the hidden politics of the diamond trade. The layered account of her love affairs — prickly Aurelia, a South African refugee; soft-spoken, green-eyed Morlai — is interspersed with the confession by a writer named Owen of his doomed love for Nora years later in New York. In the angles between these characters lies a kaleidoscope of hidden stories and half-truths, wherein simplicity is fractured into unbearable complexity. And throughout, Owen’s voice – masterful, elegant, and yet unhinged by loss – casts a spell, drawing us in and ratcheting up the intensity until we arrive at the devastating final chapters.

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Editorial Reviews

Christopher Tilghman
“In his lovely new novel, Starling Lawrence asks whether once something has happened, is there anything to do other than regret or forget. In The Thief of Words, Nora probes events long ago on a college summer in Africa, and the man who loves her can only listen and wait. The ending is beautiful and sad and all-too-human.”
Alistair MacLeod
“The Thief of Words is a dazzling novel. It explores the complexities of different cultures as well as those of the human heart. Starling Lawrence is a splendid writer.”
Stephen Harrigan
“The Thief of Words is one of those rare novels, like Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending, that are compact enough to read in a day, but somehow expansive enough to keep your imagination occupied for months or even years afterward. It's a beautiful, mournful, puzzling, haunting story, with a powerful feeling for Africa and an even more powerful understanding of the transparency of time.”
Kirkus Reviews
Elegant, elegiac novel from publisher/writer Lawrence (Montenegro, 1997, etc.), set in a dangerous time and place. The Peace Corps does it all the time, but it's an enterprise fraught with peril for an innocent youngster to enter places torn by violence, greed and cynicism. Take Sierra Leone, for example, where the blood-diamond trade has its epicenter--and where child soldiers and rapist militiamen and particularly unpleasant warlords run amok in the countryside. Nora Fenton could not be more innocent when she arrives there, intending to do good. A born liberal arts major ("She would start Ulysses some other time, but not today"), she falls in love at every turn, usually with young women, as if to forestall experiencing the illness and loss that are descending on loved ones far away. Less innocent is the young man who loves Nora in turn, a would-be writer and stamp collector (with some echoes of John Fowles perhaps intended in his makeup), and who is a born--well, embellisher of the truth, certainly an unreliable witness and chronicler of events and perhaps, we sense at the beginning of Lawrence's story, with not a little darkness in his own heart. Lawrence wisely begins his tale at the end, after a fashion: A tragedy has occurred, but how deeply it cuts remains to be explored. And explore it he does, with subtle language that suggests the complexity of the scene in which Nora and company find themselves ("The second item was the matter of the boy, Morlai, who had been introduced as her rapist and had morphed, in a subsequent letter, into her trusted companion"). Ranks with the best of Norman Rush in its sensitive but still controversial portrait of African turmoil as experienced by those unequipped to escape it. Emotionally honest, beautifully written.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593720506
  • Publisher: Quantuck Lane Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2013
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Starling Lawrence is editor at large at W. W. Norton and the author of the highly praised Montenegro and The Lightning Keeper. His fiction has been awarded the Lytle Prize by the Sewanee Review and the Balch Prize by the Virginia Quarterly Review

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