Amanda's Reviews > The Castle of Crossed Destinies

The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino
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Apr 21, 2012

it was amazing

I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who enjoys the strange and uncanny. Travelers, after traversing a forest, arrive at a castle – or tavern in the second half - unable to speak. Their only means of communication is through a deck of tarot cards – the configurations each traveler lays out their cards in being interpreted by the narrator to tell the stories of each traveler to the reader. That premise alone is the sort of thing I dreamed of someone doing before I knew about this book, making it a near mythic tale in and of itself. Though, it’s also what that premise means that makes this as engaging as it is.
All communication is symbolic. What the cards symbolize to the travelers, what the narrator sees in the cards and conveys to the reader and even what the reader takes from the narrator’s interpretation will all be different as everyone interprets every symbol differently. Sometimes slightly, sometimes so vastly as to give the symbol a wholly disparate meaning to another traveler, narrator, reader. There are layers of meaning and no single perspective which can contain absolute truth. The stories told through the cards then become questionable, the narrator unreliable, everything uncertain.
This is precisely what makes the book such an incredible read – the unknowable nature of it all. Why can they not speak in that place, why is it tarot cards through which they must impart their stories, why this narrator, why that interpretation of the cards? There’s a sense of the chaotic throughout due to this. All is liminal, neither here nor there, identities are confused and altered, what is happening and what will happen is occluded. The castle, the tavern, exist outside of an established order and so too the travelers [if this involved performance I’d not shut up for another thousand words, at least - although, it is a kind of performance...].
Like much of Calvino’s work, Castle… is steeped in folklore and myth, as well as referencing some classic works of literature. It’s an unusual, atmospheric book and having read it years ago on a road trip - one of my favorite betwixt and between experiences - it certainly served to provide a sense of eeriness to the whole journey. It’s the sort of book you will be very glad to have read for the doing of it as much for the way it causes you to question the concreteness of meaning and how your subtly different perception can vastly alter your understanding.
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Quotes Amanda Liked

Italo Calvino
“From this arid sphere every discourse and every poem sets forth; and every journey
through forests, battles, treasures, banquets, bedchambers, brings us back here, to the center
of an empty horizon.”
Italo Calvino, The Castle of Crossed Destinies


Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Oscar Argh, I want this!


Amanda Oscar wrote: "Argh, I want this!"

It is absolutely worth a read. I know some people complain that it's convoluted, but what can you expect from a book in which everyone's tale is told through tarot cards? It's just so strange and uncanny. I read it and wished people really would communicate by more arcane and elegant means sometimes. The premis cannot be beat.


Oscar I'll have to man up and save money for this, as the Uni library only has the Italian original. Or I could learn Italian.


Amanda Saving is probably the shorter route, but if you're feeling particularly adventurous... It's worth it though. One of the books I've read that I am still excited about years after reading.


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