The Solitaire Mystery

Jostein Gaarder, Author, Sarah Jane Hails, Translator Farrar Straus Giroux $22 (0p) ISBN 978-0-374-26651-6
Admirers of Gaarder's first translated work, the bestselling Sophie's World, will be familiar with this Norwegian ex-philosophy teacher's talent for transforming what is essentially a vigorous round of mental aerobics into unpredictable, absorbing fun. This novel, which was published in Norway before Sophie's World, is another offbeat delight, ontology masquerading as an ingeniously constructed fairy tale. It tells the story of the 12-year-old Hans Thomas, who is driving with his father from Norway to Greece in a quest to retrieve his errant mother. The plot thickens when a midget at a gas station on the Swiss border slips Hans Thomas a miniature magnifying glass, and then the next evening, on a stop in Dorf, a kindly old baker presents him with a correspondingly tiny book and swears him to secrecy. As Hans Thomas sneaks looks at the book, between sightseeing and philosophizing with his father on their trip south, it gradually unfurls a strange story of a shipwrecked sailor and his rather unusual game of solitaire--a story that has puzzling links with Hans Thomas's own life. By the time the mystery is resolved, Hans Thomas and his family learn important lessons about themselves and their past, as Gaarder walks the reader through a complex inquiry into the nature of being and destiny. Less light-footed than Sophie's World, this work relies on fantastical symbolism for its central allegory; some readers will find a plot that hinges on such elements as a magic vanishing island and sparkling Rainbow Soda too corny for their tastes. Others, however, will deem it enchanting, especially since all the whimsy is balanced by deft portraits of Hans Thomas and his gruff, good-hearted father. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/03/1996
Release date: 06/01/1996
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-374-52943-7
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