Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping
Than you can understand.

William Butler Yeats

It must be stated that the novel was inspired by the poem, and the author was inspired by the husband of his employer. Because this is Keith Donohue's first book and is quickly on its way to becoming a Best Seller, it would be difficult to talk about the book without also talking about the man who wrote it. Keith Donohue is middle-aged, has a wife and children and a career on capitol hill. Don't be alarmed, he is not a senator, congressman or lobbyist on capitol hill but a speech writer. For eight years he wrote speeches for Jane Alexander at The National Endowment for the Arts. It was an exchange with Alexander's husband, Ed Sharon, that led to Donohue sitting down and chasing the dream he'd thought had already gotten away. He was speaking about unfulfilled dreams when Sharon told him he just needed to sit down and do it every day. Donohue took this to heart. He wrote his first book, The Stolen Child, one page a day while riding the D.C. Metro, while on lunch breaks and inside the great hall at the National Building Museum while working for the Center for Arts & Culture. Dedication has paid off, he has written a captivating tale that was a finalist for the Quill Award and has been selected as's first foray into the film world. Donohue is now working with the National Archives helping historical groups preserve records while working on a second book.

Keith Donohue studied Yeats as an undergraduate studying Irish literature but he credits a song by an Irish-Scottish group known as The Waterboys for lending to his inspiration with their eerie version of the poem. He calls his book 'an anti-faery fairytale'. His story veers from the poem in the last line, where the child makes the commitment to leave. In Donohue's tale changelings do not entice children away to live in the wild, they hunt them.

The narrators of his book are the boy and the changeling, with chapters alternating between them. In chapter one the changeling speaks, tells how little Henry Day ran away from home and the changeling gang dragged him from his hiding place, bound and gagged him and toss him into a river. The changeling then takes his place and waits to be found by the search party his parents have gathered. He is the changeling-become-boy, his changeling name lost and never mentioned, he is now Henry Day. In chapter two we see things from little Henry Day's point of view from the moment he wakes up wet, cold and surrounded by monstrous children. He is the boy-become-changeling now, his human name quickly forgotten in his new life, he is now Aniday.

The back and forth of the chapters gives a sense of wholeness to the tale. All of the strange details that one character doesn't understand or mentions in passing the other explains away as mischief or haunting guilt. In reading this story with my husband we quickly found that the best way to enjoy it was to alternate which chapters we read aloud to one another. He took on the changeling-become-child chapters and I the child-become-changeling. In a rush of excitement to see what happened next we read a dozen chapters in one night until it was after midnight and sleep beckoned.

The book explores the identity of a changeling, after all, changelings were once children too. What memory might remain of that former human life after a hundred years living wild in the woods, stealing children for other changlings so that one day you too might re-enter the world and grow up? How does a boy deal with his separation from his parents and siblings, whom he had treated shabbily when last he saw them? Through Aniday we experience what it is like to never grow up. We see what this eternal childhood has done to the changelings that came before him and the tragic desperation they feel to both hide their secret from the dangerous world and reenter it so they too can become mothers and fathers and grow old. We learn that changelings are not truly immortal and may suffer death by accident, that they experience love and the heartbreak of tragedy can stick with them and alter them as much as it does any human.

With Henry Day we explore what life is like for the changelings who have "made the change." The constant fear of discovery, the struggle to appear human and to remember to grow at the appropriate times and the haunting memories that drift in and out of dreams of the life before he too was stolen. His struggle with the truth, his guilt for having stolen a future from a child and a child from the mother he has come to love, his confrontation with his past through his passion for music and his fear for his own child tell the tale of a changeling struggling with his identity.

In many ways the subject of this book is identity, are we who our birth certificate says we are or are we creatures who can adapt and love in new ways while letting go of our past?

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue Kojo Nnamdi interview on WAMU