Latest Book Summary & Questions

In July, we read a book of literature from Guatemala called, Severina (view on Amazon).

The majority of the book club discussion occurs in our online book club where we generally post 2 questions a day for 5 days at the end of the month. However, we also welcome discussion online here.

For reference, we've included a summary of the book below as well as all of the questions used for discussion. Beth & Mia alternate the choice of country & write up of the book summary. They each contribute approximately half of the discussion questions.

Book Summary (by Mia)

Severina’s narrator is part owner of an eccentric bookstore named, "La Entretenida." A beautiful, mysterious woman (Severina) begins to visit the store, stealing books on several occasions. The narrator knows she is stealing, but is so curious and mesmerized by her that he does not get angry. Instead, he makes it his mission to find out more about her, such as keeping a list of the books she has stolen from his store in an attempt to figure her out.

As his obsession with her grows, he takes a room at the Pension Carlos, the boarding house where she and an older gentleman are staying. The big question is if the old man (Otto Blanco) is her father, husband or grandfather, but we'll never know for sure. Severina and the narrator embark on a kind of relationship, where the most common interest is their love of books. The narrator becomes more and more perplexed as the story goes on.

One day, Severina and Otto leaves from the Pension Carlos and the narrator tracks them down at the airport, arguing with another bookstore owner (Ahmed). The narrator then remembers that his friend Latouche was a friend of Ahmed’s and relays the whole story (except the book stealing part) to him. Latouche’s advice is to speak with Ahmed. Over lunch, Ahmed tells the narrator that Severina and Otto are husband and wife and that she had also stolen books from his bookstore, which she will not get away with. Ahmed also tells him that she tried to seduce him and he had her arrested for stealing his books, but Otto came to pay for them. Otto mentioned to him that Severina suffers from illnesses and that he would pay Ahmed back for any new books she stole. The stealing and paying back repeated many times until she stole a large amount of books and tried to leave the country which is where the narrator had seen them with Ahmed. Ahmed had been tipped off by the travel agent who sold them their tickets and confronted them at the airport where he was promised an IOU by Otto when they returned in December. This gives the narrator hope that he would see Severina again.

The narrator spends the next 9 months obsessing and dreaming of her until one day he passes the Pension Carlos and sees Otto. They talk. Otto says he is Severina’s grandfather and explains their mutual love of books. He tells the narrator that he was not the first bookseller to fall in love with his granddaughter, and that he would pay him for the books she stole. He mentions that books are their "sole means of subsistence" and they have suffered greatly for it.

Later on, the narrator sees paramedics outside the Pension Carlos and finds Otto on a stretcher with Ana Severina at his side. He follows her to the hospital and assumes all responsibility for Otto’s medical bills. While Otto is in the hospital, the narrator and Ana Severina spend a lovely time together, loving and experiencing many books. Otto stabilizes, but remains unconscious. The narrator allows Severina to bring Otto home, even though he is not improving at the hospital. Otto stays unconscious in a little room of the narrator's until it is implied that Severina ends his misery. She is very distraught and insists that they bury him before anyone suspects anything.

Severina then disappears from sight again, leaving the narrator in a terrible state. She returns saying she went to see the grave and then was going back to Uruguay, but got stopped because Ahmed had placed a restriction order on her. She agrees to stay with the narrator if he travels living her lifestyle of books and thievery. Then, Ahmed shows up at the apartment looking for payment, and the narrator lets him choose books from his personal collection to repay Severina’s debt. Ahmed is greedy, but Severina knows what to do. She offers him one special book in exchange for all the books he picked off the shelf: a hand-annotated Koran from Borges’s library!

The narrator sells his share of the bookstore and takes the last name of Severina (Blanco), beginning to truly live Severina’s crazy life. But it's Severina who swindled them all!

Main Characters

  • Narrator: Unnamed man who is part-owner of a bookstore named "La Entretenida." He is obsessed with Severina.
  • Ahmed al Fahsi: Moroccan who owns a bookstore in the city. Has had books stolen by Ana Severina.
  • Ana Severina Bruguera Blanco: Mysterious, traveling book thief. Lives with an older man in Pension Carlos.
  • Senor Otto Blanco: The old man that lives and travels with Severina. He could be her father, grandfather or husband. Nobody knows for sure. He comes from a long line of people who experience life through books.
  • Jean Latouche: French poet friend of Ahmed and the narrator.

Book Club Questions

  1. Beth: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), did you like this book—why or why not? 
  2. Mia: Do you think Otto was Ana Severina’s father, grandfather, or husband? Do you think he was none of these? Explain who you think he was to her.
  3. Beth: At a short 107 pages, this book qualifies as more of a novella than a novel. Did you like the length of the book? Do you like/read novellas?
  4. Mia: Why do you think so many booksellers fell in love with Severina? Do you think she was aware of this?
  5. Beth: Did the narrator's obsession with Severina strike you as love, lust, creepiness, craziness or something else?
  6. Mia: Did you like the way books were portrayed in this novella?
  7. Beth: How did you find the prose? Captivating, readable, minimal, or something else?
  8. Mia: Did this book feel Guatemalan to you?
  9. Beth: Did the cover entice you to read the book or turn you off?
  10. Mia: Do you think Severina knew what she was doing, or were the books dictating her life?