Book Club Readers
Sigmund welcomes Thief of Glory readers to use these questions for discussions about the novel. When possible with his speaking schedule, Sigmund enjoys the chance to visit with a book club for an in-person discussion and a q&a about the novel or the writing process. There are no travel expenses involved when he is in the area visiting schools as part of his Rock And Roll Literacy presentation.
To set aside an evening for a book club visit, he requests that the book club make a one-time minimum donation of $240 to Operation Smile at www.operationsmile.org/Sigmund. This donation on behalf of the book club will bring a new smile to a boy or girl suffering from cleft palate.
- What is thematic significance of the book’s title Thief of Glory? The phrase is mentioned only once, at the end of the novel when Jeremiah says, “Against any horrors that we may face in this world, and in the face of knowledge that for each of us time is a thief of glory, what matters most and what gives meaning to our lives and deaths is love and hope.” What, then, is the meaning of this phrase to Jeremiah? What is the meaning of it to you? In what ways was time stolen from various characters in this novel? What “glory” is out of reach for the characters?
- Discuss the living conditions in the Jappenkamp in Thief of Glory. Which element was most horrifying to you? Which scene, if any, held the most hope? Was this your first time reading a novel about a concentration camp? If not, describe any differences and similarities between this story and any others you have read. If so, compare it with any current events in the media about people in some form of captivity.
- At the beginning of the novel, Jeremiah remarks about Georgie, “Georgie had no idea how easily I had taken control of the situation. But then, I had no idea of the extent of his cruelty and preference for inflicting pain. Yet.” To what extent is this an adequate characterization of Georgie? How would you expand upon Jeremiah’s observation? When meeting Georgie again in the present-day part of the story, has your perception of him changed? Why or why not?
- Games are important in the development of a child, particularly in providing opportunities to learn about loss, fairness, and competition. In a novel, they can also serve as a microcosm of the larger macrocosm the characters live in. In Thief of Glory, Jeremiah plays several marble games in which the stakes increase as the story progresses. He learns valuable lessons as a result of his games, especially those played with Dr. Kloet. What is one of those lessons? Indicate the significance of other marble games played in the story.
- Jeremiah’s mother Elspeth suffers from an unidentified mental illness that Jeremiah’s father says is “no more her fault than catching a fever.” Her illness often caused her to retreat to her bedroom for long periods of time. On the day the Japanese arrive to take the rest of the family to a Jappenkamp, Jeremiah discovers that Elspeth had drawn intricate sketches during those reclusive times. What images did he see in these drawings? What meaning do they hold for Jeremiah? For the story as a whole? Which sketch survived to the present day and why?
- Identity is a key concept in Thief of Glory since a number of characters and groups are displaced and trying to assimilate into one or more cultures. Prior to the opening of this story, Indonesia had been a Dutch colony for nearly 350 years. Where in the story do you see this struggle for identity? How do the Dutch and the Indonesians view one another in this novel? What stereotypes are present? What elitist attitudes among the Dutch are described?
- Only a very young boy when the story begins, Pietje is the last of the Prins children. Describe his character at the beginning of the novel. Why does he respond so well to Jeremiah? Discuss how he and Jeremiah react to their experiences in the Jappenkamp. How are they similar? Different? What reaction did you have to Pietje’s adult lifestyle in the “underbelly” of Amsterdam, smoking opium? How do you think Pietje’s life might have been different had he known the reason for his mother’s death?
- From the moment they meet, Georgie and Jeremiah are on opposing sides. Even while living in the Jappenkamp, their animosity toward one another increases. Explain why you think they are enemies. Be sure to discuss what they have in common, then review their reunion as old men. Has their relationship changed? If so, how? Which one allows for reconciliation and why? Why doesn’t the other desire reconciliation?
- Consider the native Indonesian characters in Thief of Glory: the djongos in the Prins household, the launderer who hires Pietje and Jeremiah, Adi and his parents Sukorno and Utami, the extremists who raid households for furniture, the radical pemuda—young soldiers in the independence movement, and others. What do these characters and voices add to the novel?
- Freedom is an underlying desire of many characters and groups in the novel. Identify those who desire freedom and why. Also discuss the avenues to freedom that exist in the novel, such as Jeremiah’s “pipeline to freedom.” In the closing scenes, the residents of the Jappenkamp are escorted to freedom by British and Australian soldiers. What did they sacrifice in order to regain their freedom? How do you think their definition of freedom changed between the beginning of the novel and the end?
- Much of Thief of Glory is about power. Political unrest is a driving force in the novel, and in the midst of war, many characters crave, gain, and/or lose power. Why is power so important to the female characters in the Jappenkamp? Compare how and why certain forms of power are desirable to certain female characters and not to others. How much are they willing to sacrifice for it? And, when they finally have it, what do they do with it? Consider these characters when answering: Dr. Eikenboom, Laura Jansen, Sophie Jansen, Elspeth Prins, Mrs. Georgina Ruth Smith, Mrs. Baker, Mrs. Schoonenburg.
- Were you shocked when it was revealed that Jeremiah was behind his mother’s death? How did it change your opinion of Jeremiah’s character? How did this act affect Pietje? How do you think it does, or will, affect Laura? What does Jeremiah mean when he says he was “rescued by his past and present and future” by Rachel?
- Discuss the living animals and insects that appear in Thief of Glory, including dogs, a python, other snakes, mice, and caterpillars. In what ways do the story’s characters interact with these creatures? What are the characters’ perceptions of these living beings, and how or why are those perceptions significant? In what ways do these animals and insects, along with the climate and geography of the island of Java, develop the story’s authenticity?
- Adi’s cleft palate ostracizes him from people of every nationality. He knows that his speech and appearance scare children who think he is a “monster” and that many adults prefer to avoid him. However, Adi becomes a lifeline for the women and children in the Jappenkamp. What symbolic role does his character serve in Thief of Glory? What contradictions does he bring to light?
- Identify where Christianity is evident in Thief of Glory. How do certain characters interpret or apply their Christian faith while in the Jappenkamp? Discuss the underlying ideas about good vs. evil in this novel and at this point in history. Have these ideas changed at all? If so, how?
- When Sophie Jansen volunteers to take Elspeth’s punishment and receives a terrible beating from Commander Nakahara, her sacrifice could be seen as a parallel to the crucifixion of Jesus. Would you agree? What is significance of the next day’s “zodiacal light” or false dawn?
- What role does Jeremiah’s father serve in the story? How is the father/son relationship portrayed and what impact does it have on Jeremiah? On Jeremiah’s stepbrothers? On Pietje? Take into consideration Jeremiah’s description of his father as a “strict disciplinarian” who “detested whining or excuses in any form” and displayed “unemotional severity.”
- Why do you think the author chose to include marbles in the story, particularly Jeremiah’s fascination with them? Describe Jeremiah’s prized marble and explain its significance. Based on the type of marble player Jeremiah is, what do you think he believes about calculating risks and taking chances? Do you think the games serve as a vehicle for making sense of his environment and circumstances? If so, how?
- In the first chapter of Thief of Glory, readers learn that the narrator is an old man who is recounting events that began over seventy years ago. It is not long before readers also realize that Jeremiah suffers from the early stages of Alzheimer’s. In what way does Jeremiah’s age and onset of Alzheimer’s affect the story’s telling, if any?