Sunday, November 15, 2015

'The Solitaire Mystery' by Jostein Gaarder


I am pleased to highlight the work of Cotopaxi in today's review. They have created an excellent range of outdoor and adventure products with the goal of helping to alleviate world poverty. Here is their mission statement.  And here is a range of their backpacks, enabling us to carry our adventure novels around with the gear we need. They will be featuring a great range of bloggers' favorite adventure stories in days to come. Here are some of theirs, to get us in the mood for exploration and hitting the road. Please support them if you can.

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Hans Thomas and his father set out on a car trip through Europe, from Norway to Greece—the birthplace of philosophy—in search of Hans Thomas's mother, who left them many years earlier. On the way, Hans Thomas receives a mysterious miniature book—the fantastic memoir of a sailor shipwrecked in 1842 on a strange island where a deck of cards come to life.

Structured as a deck of cards—each chapter is one in the deck—"The Solitaire Mystery" weaves together fantasy and reality, fairy tales and family history. Full of questions about the meaning of life, it will spur its listeners to reexamine their own

Hans Thomas is a young boy on a road trip across Europe with his Dad. Their ultimate aim is to track down his mother, who left them on a quest to 'find herself' when Hans Thomas was tiny. They've discovered she has a successful modelling career in Athens, so that's their destination. Dad has decided it's about time she came home, or at least talked things over.

On the way, Hans Thomas acquires a small magnifying glass, and a little further on, a tiny book with minuscule writing given especially to him. No way will I spoil the plot by revealing the circumstances. It becomes his travel reading, and is soon clear to him that this is not just any book, but has direct bearing on his own life. It's also a story with similarities to onion layers or Babushka dolls. The person who wrote it is merely repeating what he was told by someone else, who got it from another person, and so on, back to Frode, a man who was shipwrecked in the nineteenth century and began making up lonely games with his deck of cards. The story-within-a-story turns out to be about readers like us, too.

It's a colorful and sensual novel, full of descriptions of many wonderful things. I wish it was published as one of those large, hard-cover versions with vivid illustrations. I'd go straight out and buy one. Being unable to drive across Europe myself, it was magical sharing Hans Thomas and Dad's adventure. The 'real' section is just as much of a fairy tale as what the boy reads in the book. Especially since it involves snow capped German mountain peaks, gondola rides in Venice and a walk through the Acropolis in Greece.

Along their way, the story delves into topics such as synchronicity, destiny and collective consciousness in a highly original way. How many other books would you come across with sentences such as, 'The dwarf stole the sticky-bun book!' That's just a teaser for you.

Hans Thomas' Dad was one of my favorite characters, providing many of the quirks and pauses for reflection. For a start, he collects jokers, often throwing away the rest of the card deck like a banana peel. The joker theme became one which really stuck with me. Hans Thomas suspects that Dad has an affinity with the joker, considering himself a little fool who doesn't fit into any group, but is perhaps more far-sighted and clear-thinking than those who do.

Another great aspect of the book is opening our eyes to the incredible world in which we live. Several characters come to realize that it is folly to rush around feeling bored, and seeking experiences with elusive supernatural beings such as ghosts, angels or Martians, when all along, we ourselves are miraculous examples of God's sublime creation.

Perhaps my favorite two trains of thought are brought together when Hans Thomas' Dad says, 'If just one of these thousands of people experience life like a crazy adventure every single day, then he or she is a joker in a deck of cards.' I have a feeling that hanging out with Jostein Gaarder might be similar to spending time with Hans Thomas' Dad, and that he considers himself a joker too.

5 stars.


  1. Sounds like a fascinating book, Paula :)

    1. It was different to anything I'd read more recently, that's for sure. Refreshing to come across something new. I found this one in a second hand shop.

  2. I would love to know how the sticky bun story has gone from being told to my friend in the 50's in the UK to it being a book, can anyone help?