Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Book Review: The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

Instead of getting a summer job, Alton agrees to be a cardturner for his blind and rich great uncle Lester Trapp’s bridge games. Along the way, he learns life lessons and how to play the game.

After reading this novel, I’m convinced Sachar can make any subject fascinating. I went in knowing next to nothing about bridge, and I put the novel down at the end not only with a rudimentary understanding of the game, but a healthy appreciation for it.

Sachar knows he’s not going to interest everyone in the intricacies of bridge strategy and culture, so he employs a very creative device known as the “Moby Dick” whale. Sachar precedes sections where potentially “boring” details could get in the way of the story with an icon of the whale and then follows them up with a short summary. I can think of a ton of novels that would benefit from this brilliant device (first to mind is Elizabeth Kostova’s THE HISTORIAN – a whale icon could have spared me that whole plodding section on the migration habits of medieval monks in Eastern Europe).

As it did in HOLES, Sachar’s storytelling shines. Alton befriends another bridge playing teen related to Lester named Toni who may or may not be crazy. Together they help Lester fulfill his dream of playing in the national bridge tournament. The novel also has a philosophical bent, touching on themes like coincidence and synchronicity, religion and afterlife.

Here are some passages I really liked.

On the eternal life of ideas:

One way or another, the body of Alton Richards will cease to exist,” he said.
“But the idea of Alton Richards will live forever.”

“So what happens to
ideas that are not communicated?” asked Gloria. “Do they die?”

“An idea
doesn’t die,” said Trapp. “It exists somewhere, in its own dimension, waiting to
be perceived
.” p. 123

On coincidence:

He said that synchronicity was different than mere coincidence. With
synchronicity you feel there’s a definite connection. You just don’t know what
that connection is.”
p. 144
On creation:

Maybe that’s what religion is all about. Is life just a highly improbable
coincidence, or does an impossible explanation make more sense?”
p 313

THE CARDTURNER is out in hardcover now. Find out more about it on the author’s website.


Mrs. DeRaps said...

Yay! I just received this book in the mail yesterday. I'm so excited to read it after hearing your thoughts. (I kinda skimmed your review b/c I didn't want to bias my reading...I'll check back and read more closely after I've read it.)

bermudaonion said...

Wow! Sachar sounds like an amazing author - I don't think I've read any of his work.

Alex Bennett from Electrifying Reviews said...

Lol! i LOVE Lois Sachar!

Lenore Appelhans said...

Kathy - You need to read HOLES!! Like right now!

Unknown said...

It surprised me how much I enjoyed this book! The story was compelling as well as the details about bridge! I was moved!

Lenore Appelhans said...

I was also moved!

Stasia said...

Thanks for this review. I've loved Louis Sachar from SIDEWAYS STORIES through HOLES but I was hesitant about CARD TURNER b/c of the subject. Now I'm heading out to buy my copy!

Zibilee said...

I love the whale technique and can also think of a lot of books that could use it, The Historian being one among many! Great review, Lenore! I might have to think about this one for my son.

I am also going to be placing a big book order for the kids summer reading soon, and you will be happy to know that I will be scouring your website to pick some books I know they will love!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I am annoyed with myself that I've never read Holes. I pitched it to my kids as something we could read together (they love the movie) and I got dead stares like I was crazy. I'd also heard good things about the sequel. Giving this all some more thought...

Andi said...

Awesome! I would not have thought this book would be for me, but since you addressed that whole bridge issue and Sachar's awesome ability to make anything interesting, I'm in!

Readingjunky said...

Just finished this one and loved it! I agree with everything in your review.
Can't wait to share it with my students.


Carla said...

I have never read anything by this author, but I think those little excerpts may have convinced me. You can see in so little words that this author is a true writer. I've heard nothing but fascinating and amazing things about Holes, so I am definitely going to have to pick up one of his books. And have you seen the UK cover? so so pretty.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Carla - The UK was the first one I saw (at the Bologna book fair). It's gorge!!

Alison Can Read said...

This sounds like a fabulous book. You never hear about Bridge anymore.
I hadn't heard about this book until I read your review. Then I noticed that the NYT posted about it recently.
Guess lots of people really liked it.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

This sounds great! I love the whale icon idea -- I can think of plenty of books that could have used that.

Jamie said...

I've loved him since the good old days of the Wayside Stories books! He's great. I haven't read this one but definitely should after reading your review!

Anonymous said...

Ooh! Skimmed through your review because I don't want to spoil it! My copy came into the public librar today! Really looking forward to reading it because I loved Holes :-)

Marie Cloutier said...

I've never read Sachar but he seems to be a really great writer- everyone loves his stuff. Thanks for the great review!

Jennifer said...

This sounds great - especially the part about learning just enough about bridge to understand what's going on. I have had a little bit of an interest in learning a little bit about the game, but I don't want a fiction book I read for fun to turn into a how to book. Also, I loved the quotes you shared. I love books that have a little bit of philosophical exploration in them.

Beth Kephart said...

I adore Sachar as a person and as a writer. Thank you for this!

Tasha said...

I wasn't planning to read this, but you sold me with the whale bit. Onto the list it goes.

Vorobiev said...

I loved the style of writing.

And you are right, when ordinary ideas are put into in-ordinary words, that is good writing.