Tereza’s mother thought that the world was a “vast concentration camp of bodies,” each one alike in every way. When Tereza looked in the mirror, she wished that her body were unique and unlike any other, including her mother’s. Tereza’s soul, the narrator says, was therefore buried deep in her bowels, which is exactly where it was the day she first met Tomas.
The idea of the world as a “vast concentration camp” is repeated throughout the book. While it here represents the sameness of bodies in Tereza’s mother’s eyes, Tereza later refers to a concentration camp as the complete lack of privacy, in which case the entire country of Czechoslovakia is a “vast concentration camp.”
The first time Tereza met Tomas, he was a customer in the restaurant where she worked. He placed a book on the table, which caught Tereza’s eye. To Tereza, books were symbolic “of a secret brotherhood,” and they afforded her an escape from her miserable existence. She enjoyed books as physical objects as well, and she was never without one, an addition that made her different from others.
Tereza’s books set her apart and make her more unique, but they are also the means through which she seeks power and knowledge. She frequently refers to books as “the emblem of a secret brotherhood,” and she assumes that reading means one is enlightened and automatically a good person. Tereza is attracted to Tomas because of his book. Tomas sees this as a coincidence, but to Tereza, it is fate.