(Florence. April 11, 2001. Me in the first of a string of purple coats. Lynn and Ponte Vecchio.)
I sat with this exquisite book late at night, my husband snoring beside me, a dim light keeping watch. When I read a Beth Kephart book, I make sure the hours are there before me, uninterrupted. I knew, about thirty pages in, there would be no stopping mid-way. I had to get to some kind of end.
One Thing Stolen is about Nadia Cara, who, on a research trip with her mother, brother, and professor father in Florence, has begun to lose her ability to speak. She’s snatching pieces of memory, of her elusive now, searching for a boy who may or may not be real, stealing pieces of a city and weaving them into elaborate nests.
She lives in a room once occupied by twins and she fixates on the might-be disappearance of one of them. We watch, as if on high or below or behind or across, the weave of two Nadias. One, through memory, as part of a plea for us to know her as she was in her home of West Philadelphia, the whip-smart planner, witnessing miracles, leading her best friend Maggie to hidden pockets of her city. A girl with a future. The other, a shadow of her former self, whose everything is uncertain.
I can’t tell you how much I love this book, how in awe I sat of this story, an elaborate nest of its own. I’d copy every beautiful sentence from this novel and leave it here for you, but that is the gift of Kephart’s book, sitting with its soft feathered pages. This book is not a tangle. It is an incredible, careful, deliberate weave. Ribbons and strands of story coming together to create something exquisite and beautiful. Like Nadia’s very first steal, which involves taking apart the words and language she is losing her grip on and braiding it back together in pieces, this book is a similar, spectacular creation.
The broken Nadia is what captured my heart as it pulsed and raced through these pages, what broke it and put it back together. I don’t, that I know, have a neurological disorder, but perhaps I understand what it is to mourn someone I used to be. To feel that I have unravelled, lost pieces of myself, chasing through the streets of a foreign city, desperate to find myself whole.
There is time, in our lives, to seek out, to remember, and to hold tight to the people who remind us, every day, who we are and who we can be. In this book, that person is Nadia’s best friend, Maggie. We meet Maggie throughout the book but we know her and come to love her as she wrestles with Nadia’s story for us. She, like the Mud Angels who rescued the city of Florence after its 1966 flood, is steadfast, certain, hopeful, and loyal, willing to see past the muck and mire, to the rare relic of us all. She is someone we should all aspire to be. To one another. To ourselves.
I am lucky, so lucky, to have many Maggies in my life but I could not help but close the pages of this book and remember my own time in Florence with my very own Maggie, my friend Lynn. Lynn held tight to our Let’s Go Europe guide book and led us through cobblestone streets, teetering gelato cones, yanking my chin up to the Duomo, waiting with me in an endless line at the Uffizi, standing above and beside the almost-but-never-will-be (S)Arno river. I was reminded, as I looked at the photo above, that I was designated map girl. Me, hopeless with direction, a person who never knows where she’s going until she’s there, but, like Nadia, so certain, so sure, I had a future.
This book holds tight to hope and I held on with it. A really stunning, masterful work.