City of Sophistry

Memoirs of a Book Thief

Written by Alessandro Tota, Illustrated by Pierre Van Hove, Translated by Edward Gauvin

Paris in the early 1950’s wasn’t all philosophers smoking Gitanes on the Rive Gauche. It was a time of political tension and uncertainty. The old order had been destabilised by the nazi occupation. The Communist Party was popular, having played a leading role in the resistance, with the authority of the Soviet Union behind it but having not yet had to face up to the invasion of Hungary. Gaullism confronted rebellion in Algeria as the colonies strove for independence.

This is the world that Daniel Bordin finds himself in. He is a young man who has come to Paris, ostensibly to study law whilst living with his Communist relatives. His childhood leaves him with an obsession with books, but having no money and rather enjoying the thrill, he embarks on a career as a book thief. His thievery draws the attention of some other characters living in the bohemian fringe of Parisian life.

Books! Were they not to blame for all of this?

Daniel Bordin

Daniel also fancies himself a poet, especially when there are young women around who may be impressed by such things. And so he finds himself engaging in an act of intrepid plagiarism at a poetry reading. This new literary theft brings him to the attention of the literati and new opportunities beckon.

Daniel’s thefts both intellectual and physical become the driving force of the narrative. His new bohemian pals, a mixture of proto-situationist chancers, romantics and criminal thugs are impressed. They dream of a new manifesto – politically driven proletarian theft contrasted with the respectable theft practised by the bourgeoisie. 

Ultimately Daniel’s actions have an unstoppable dynamic. His acts and general attitude prove selfish and egotistical – far from the lofty ideological goals assigned to him by others. A small town kid trying to reinvent himself.  His lovers, his family, his friends, all prove very much secondary considerations. 

Me..and Gide

Me…and Camus

Me…and Sartre

Me! Daniel Bodin! The author of Memoirs of a Book Thief. 

A Masterpiece!

Daniel Bordin

Memoirs of a Book Thief is a study in being a fake, in blustering your way through life on attitude and confidence rather than talent. Daniel Bodin would probably make a good career as a modern politician. After all, they can recite other people’s poetry to great acclaim as well.

Daniel is a likeable fake, but so too are many of those who encounters. The literati whom he fools, the bohemians and crooks with their drunken manifestos which are forgotten in the morning. The exception is Colette, who comes from a similar provincial background which she longs to escape but has an attitude to life, love and art which shows more integrity and indeed sense than that of Daniel.

The illustrations of Pierre Van Hove bring Paris to life wonderfully. The bars and café’s, the apartments of the wealthy and the garrets of the poor. The salons of the literati and the brothels of the underworld. Daniel and his friends are largely nocturnal and the darkness is captured brilliantly in the inky panels. Stars and the lights of the Tour Eiffel are reflected in the dark waters of the Seine.

Faces are simply rendered but capture the personalities very effectively, especially Daniel and the thuggish Jean-Michel. The apartment blocks of Paris and rooftops which thieves can sneak across are drawn with great use of perspective to capture a sense of vertigo.

Memoirs of a Book Thief is a charming and evocative work which immerses the reader in Paris of the 50’s and in the folly, fun and potential of youth. I can recommend you buy it, or indeed borrow it from a library. Best not steal it though.

Memoirs of a Book Thief is published in English by Self Made Hero and is available from good bookshops or their website.

Alessandro Tota and Pierre Van Hove can be found at their websites.

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