Das Kartengeheimnis

by Jostein Gaarder

Other authorsGabriele Haefs (Translator)
Hardcover, 1995



Call number

GW 8496 K18



München [u.a.] Hanser 1995


Twelve-year-old Hans Thomas lives alone with his father, a man who likes to give his son lessons about life and has a penchant for philosophy. Hans Thomas' mother left when he was four (to 'find' herself) and the story begins when father and son set off on a trip to Greece, where she now lives, to try to persuade her to come home. En route, in Switzerland, Hans Thomas is given a magnifying glass by a dwarf at a petrol station, and the next day he finds a tiny book in his bread roll which can only be read with a magnifying glass. How did the book come to be there? Why does the dwarf keep showing up? It is all very perplexing and Hans Thomas has enough to cope with, with the daunting prospect of seeing his mother. Now his journey has turned into an encounter with the unfathomable...or does it all have a logical explanation?… (more)

Media reviews

''The Solitaire Mystery'' is a slight story that digresses frequently into ontological riddles and idle musings over rather trivial coincidences (the fact, for example, that there are the same number of cards in a deck as there are weeks in a year).

User reviews

LibraryThing member ed.pendragon
For nearly four decades I've had a hand-coloured aquatint by the Romantic artist Paul Sandby (after an original by William Pars). Dated 1780, it depicts The Temple of Sunium, the ruins of which still lie at the last cape every sailor sees sailing south from Athens. It's not a very distinguished
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print, and I don’t know why I particularly liked it then, but I now treasure it for its classical associations: the site from which King Aegeus threw himself into the sea when he thought that his son Theseus had been killed by the Minotaur in the Cretan labyrinth, and a place of worship dedicated to Poseidon, Greek god of the ocean and of earthquakes.

I was reminded of this picture at a highpoint of The Solitaire Mystery, when Hans Thomas and his father hope to finally see his mother Anita, who left them back in Norway many years before in order 'to find herself'. After a journey in an old Fiat from Norway via Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Adriatic, Delphi and Athens, father and son learn that the mother can be found at a photo-shoot in the temple at Sounion. Why she has left them, why they have sought her after many years of waiting, and what then turns out to be the eventual outcome, all this forms the frame of the story, a metaphor for the philosophical quest that Hans Thomas and his father are simultaneously engaged in on their transcontinental trip. Published a year before the best-selling Sophie’s World, this novel shares some of the same philosophical curiosity but somehow lacks the spark that makes it a great book, an omission that I find hard to put my finger on.

Gaarder’s narrative relies on the device of stories-within-stories, and concerns several lifetimes over some two centuries. Besides Hans Thomas and his ex-seaman father, the principal characters are Frode, who disappeared at sea in 1790, a baker called Hans who gets shipwrecked in 1842, Albert Klages who is an orphan from Dorf in Switzerland, and a German soldier called Ludwig who has an affair with a Norwegian woman before the end of the Second World War and is presumed dead on the Eastern Front. How these several lives interact, overlap and influence each other is a strand in the novel which is often confusing, I suspect deliberately so. These links are compounded by The Solitaire Mystery being part of a genre in literature where there is a fantastic overlay to everyday life. In The Solitaire Mystery this largely concerns the recurrent theme of a pack of fifty-two playing cards with the addition of a Joker.

There may be echoes of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in Gaarder’s concept of cards existing as living individuals, and of Italo Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies in that the narrative seems to rely on a playing card sequence (Tarot cards in the case of Calvino’s novella) to determine the course of the action. Gaarder, however, has used his cards to different effect: for example, they are introduced partly to demarcate the passing of days, months, seasons and years as a kind of universal calendar, with the Joker representing the extra day added in a leap year. The Great Year of fifty-two calendar years also has significance in the scheme of things, marking both an end and a beginning. I suspect the fact that the author was born in the fifty-second year of the twentieth century may have a bearing on his obsession with the numerology of playing cards.

As with many magic realism novels, the psychological aspects mingle freely with the fantastic, leaving lingering after-images long after the novel has been read. The recurrent motifs of sticky bun and fizzy drink may represent mere sustenance, or may have a religious significance; the special drink called Rainbow Fizz may refer to the father’s alcoholism or to one being so drunk with the sensation of living that one can become desensitised to the real wonders of life, the universe and everything. The names that authors choose for places and people can take on a higher meaning (Hans Thomas notes that his missing mother’s name, Anita, is nearly a palindrome of the Greek word for Athens, where they are searching for her); or they may merely be coincidence (the Swiss village Dorf, which in German merely means ‘village’, is virtually a palindrome of Frode, ‘clever’ or ‘wise’ in Scandinavian languages); on the other hand, Gaarder may just choose names that appeal to him (a 20th-century philosopher and graphologist Ludwig Klages seems to have inspired the names of the German soldier Ludwig and his mentor Albert Klages). The more you dig, the more you uncover, which may be what Gaarder is trying to say about philosophy generally.

While this is an imaginative novel, bubbling over with mental pictures and ideas, I was not entirely convinced by the attempted meld of realism and fantasy; I would, however, be a little poorer for not having read it. An added bonus is the inclusion of Hilda Kramer’s illustrations for the chapter headings, both reminiscent of 19th-century engravings and notable for subtly including what look like fingerprint whorls for line shading. I can’t speak for the accuracy of Sarah Jane Hails’ translation, but it certainly flowed naturally, capturing some of the phraseology and vocabulary that you might expect from the putative twelve-year-old narrator. If only all youngsters on the cusp of adolescence could have such insight; if only everyone had chances to ponder the inter-relatedness of things, as I did with an old aquatint and a sailor’s yarn.
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LibraryThing member bridgetmarkwood
This book will go down as one my favorites of all time. I will be reading it again in a few years. It is so cleverly written and rather philosophical. The story has a beautiful rhythm to it, almost poetic. It is well organized too. The reader is sucked in to this fantastic journey that takes him or
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her deeper than expected. Like the Harry Potter series, this book has magical moments on almost every page. And where it is not magical, it is thought provoking- sometimes it is both.

This is a book that one could pick up again and again in different stages of life and get something new from it each time. I'm so glad I found this treasure! Wish more people could read it.
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LibraryThing member stephmo
Jostein Gaarder builds wonderful worlds where magic meets mystical and the philosophical. But this isn't the fantastic part. The fantastic comes in when you realize how well this world fits in with our own. When one character's exposure to all manner of fantastic sights and tastes leads to, I sad
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thinking how terribly sad it was that people are made in such a way that they get used to something as incredible as living, you know that Gaarder is absolutely trying to teach you about a little bit more than the possibility of fate and destiny.

Gaardner weaves together an incredibly clever tale. This is at first a story of a father and son on a journey together in search of the mother that left them years earlier. Along the way, they take a detour and young Hans Thomas comes into possession of a magnifying glass and a tiny book where the story within a story starts. Within the pages of this tiny book, a tale of fate, the Solitaire Mystery and Hans Thomas's destiny await. Shades of Gaardner's better-known Sophie's World are all over this book, but this story is far more accessible.
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LibraryThing member yarkan
It is a little strained in its contrivances, but fun for that reason maybe.
LibraryThing member lenoreva
Gaarder asserts that coincidences, like life are "one huge lottery where only the winning tickets are visible" - which means he doesn't really believe in them. Cool book though!
LibraryThing member TheoClarke
An ingenious novel that revisits the book within a book concept of Sophie's World to explore creationism. I would have preferred the explicit metaphor of the deck of cards to have been exploited further with two stories flowing from a published sequence and a reordering of the 52 chapters according
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to a conventional sequence but that goes way beyond the author's intent.
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LibraryThing member kakadoo202
a story in the story which run paralell. very interesting.
LibraryThing member stevedore
I reckon it takes more than just a mystical respect for life and a somewhat arrogant assumption that other people don't feel that same mystical respect to claim that you are philosophising. Or maybe I just didn't understand what Gaarder was saying. The two parallel stories in this book were clever
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and engaging. But the characters were arrogant and hard to warm to. Ultimately I felt like the book was trying to outline some powerful insight into humanity but fell short. It could have benefited from abandoning the philosophy and focusing instead on explaining the reasons for the various characters' actions.
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LibraryThing member nicoyu
A story of family and destiny.
There are two flows in the story -- now and the past.
In the journey to Greece, where 12-year-old Hann's mother is, the little boy discover the origin and the story of his family.
LibraryThing member littlesparrow
I've read "Sophie's World" and found it a lovely book to get you into philosophy and all that. This one though is a bit more subtle in all the philosophy it has, yet it does talk about philosophy. I do hate to repeat things said about a book, but this is definitively an "Alice in Wonderland" kind
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of book meant for adults or young people that want to do a little thinking and not just zone out when reading (but it is not the tedious kind of thinking, but the very engaging kind).
I kept wanting to dog ear the pages (the book is from the library so I had to resist the temptation) or underline phrases (things I don't usually DO with my books!), and lots of bits stuck to me and are still there in my mind.
Very recommendable :)
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LibraryThing member isabelx
The sandcastle isn't the most important thing. What is most important is the image of the sandcastle which the child had pictured before it started to build. Why do you think the child knocks the castle down as soon as it is finished?

A story of shipwrecked sailors, playing cards and calendars, of
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soldiers and bakers, of missing parents and alcoholic fathers, of grandfathers and grandsons re-united, of dwarves and jokers, of goldfish and rainbow fizz. It took me a while to get into this philosophical novel from the author of "Sophie's World", but once I did I found it fascinating.
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LibraryThing member Daniel.Estes
I prefer this one over Jostein Gaarder's more popular Sophie's World. It's not even close in my opinion; The Solitaire Mystery is clearly better, with a lot more storytelling and a lot less philosophizing. Sophie's World was like, "Are we in school? Because this feels like a lecture." Solitaire
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lets its hair down, giving the characters and narration room to breathe.

12-year-old Hans-Thomas is on a journey across the European continent, accompanying his father to Greece where they intend to locate and bring home their wife and mother who left some years prior. At the start it's unclear why she left. Along the way Hans-Thomas acquires a magnifying glass from an enigmatic gas station attendant and a tiny story book hidden inside a sticky bun from a similarly enigmatic baker. The tiny book houses a tale about a hidden island, a mysterious rainbow soda and a deck of playing cards that comes alive. And although Hans-Thomas doesn't realize it yet, it also holds a secret for him.
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
Hm. Even though I have a lot to say about this and so should have written this review immediately, I'm glad I didn't. The more I let ideas from and about it percolate in my head, the less I like the story.

I didn't realize it was by the author of Sophie's World, which I did not like (well, admit,
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did not finish) years ago. If I had, I would not have picked this up.

In some ways this reminds me of In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente, with the otherworldly tales within tales vibe and structure.
In some ways it reminds me of The Neverending Story, with the child hero in a book that is marketed as much to adults as to children, and the fantastical philosophical metaphorical metaphysical world.

Fans of either might enjoy this. I was a fan of Valente's when I read it a few months ago, but it's fading in my memory and I have a less than rosy memory of it. I don't care for Ende's 'masterpiece' much at all.

The philosophy was rather childish, and all mixed up with science and self-help cliches: those three kinds of thought are distinct and should not be jumbled together if one is trying to communicate effectively about any of them. The most prominent theme as that everyone needs to wake up & truly live & understand how wonderful the world is -- but the child spends almost the whole trip reading a book, and he and his dad are on this trip to retrieve 'Mommy,' who, for all we know, is more alive in Greece on her own than she was with her family in Norway.

And what's up with Mommy? Gaarder (like just about any other philosopher) doesn't care what women think about. We have no idea why Mommy abandoned the family. Other females in the story are a few mere tokens. I guess it's true that most women are busy with more pragmatic concerns and it does tend to be the men who can spare the time to think deep thoughts about where we come from and what is our purpose. I know my purpose is to nurture my family, for example, and if I get a chance to smell some roses as I go along, that's enough.

I did manage to finish it, even though the structure and language (translation?) prevented me from immersing myself in it and so it took too long. So I guess it's not a terrible book. But I'm not recommending it.

It would be good for book groups. I know I have questions. I don't care about them, but they are discuss-able.
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LibraryThing member thebookmagpie
"the biggest secret of all was the world itself."
LibraryThing member JanicsEblen
This book is unusual - at least from my point of view. I'm not clear what category of books it belongs in. It is certainly mystical since you are deal with a boy and his fathers travels and at the same time you are reading and dealing with another world made up of playing card that have come
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somewhat to life. It is an interesting study in how we live our lives.
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LibraryThing member justine
A book about finding yourself and a little bit about epistimology.
LibraryThing member moukayedr
This story can be read as a fairytale about solitaire, a family story about a boy and his dad in search of a mother and a wife who got lost while trying to find herself.
On a more deeper level it tries to delve into destiny, and philosophy and how smaller things affect the bigger things and how we
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are all part of a great game of solitaire that is our destiny.

Quotes from the book:
The greatest thing of all is love. Time can't pale that as easily as it fades old memories.

The only thing I know is that I know nothing - Socrates.

There is still a joker roaming around the world. He will make sure that the world never rests. Whenever possible -and wherever possible - a little fool will jump out wearing long donkey ears and jingling bells. He will look deep into our eyes and ask, who are we? Where do we come from ?

I liked the book, but it was somewhat slow getting to the point and the levels of the story got quite complex and confusing.
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