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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journey into storytelling
Chances are, you won't have read anything like this before. A disparate group of travellers take refuge for the night in a castle - whereupon they find themselves unable to speak. Intent, nonetheless, on finding some means of communicating with each other, they begin to experiment with a set of tarot cards. Each character takes it in turn to tell the story of how they...
Published on 12 Oct 2004 by N. Clarke

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tales contrived from grids of tarot cards
As in "The Canterbury Tales", a disparate group of travellers share tales, but here the similarity ends, since they have lost the power of speech and are forced to communicate by setting out tarot cards, which Calvino also describes as "arcani".

At first, I found the stories unengaging fairy tales, of the knight errant encounters in forest fair maiden who...
Published on 20 Jun 2011 by Antenna


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journey into storytelling, 12 Oct 2004
By 
N. Clarke (Lancs, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Castle Of Crossed Destinies (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Chances are, you won't have read anything like this before. A disparate group of travellers take refuge for the night in a castle - whereupon they find themselves unable to speak. Intent, nonetheless, on finding some means of communicating with each other, they begin to experiment with a set of tarot cards. Each character takes it in turn to tell the story of how they reached the castle, laying out each in turn, using the images within the cards to represent the stages of their journey.
What unfolds is a dazzling exploration of myth and fairytale, using the archetypes and symbolism of the cards (each of which is displayed in the margin of the page when invoked). Lines of cards - stories - intersect and overlap as more are laid down on the table. In doing so, they echo, contradict, deepen, and borrow from each other as the overall layout grows, adding whole new stories - and ways of reading the existing stories - just from the way they sit beside each other, and what different cards mean in relation to others. Again, the full layout is displayed in the book, once all the tales have been told.
Sometimes the characters in the cards and the stories they tell are archetypes: the Bride, the Warrior, the Alchemist. Sometimes they're literary, or mythological: Oedipus, Mephistopheles, Roland. There are layers upon fascinating layers of symbolism and meaning, here - you could, frankly, go on reading and re-reading this book for months, and not see all it has to offer. Wonderful.
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A strange, clever masterpiece., 2 May 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Castle Of Crossed Destinies (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
In The Castle of Crossed Destinies, Calvino has attempted to blur the distinction between word and image. The setting is a castle that is also a tavern, hidden somewhere deep in the midst of a thick forest. Lost travellers who seek refuge there discover that the forest has robbed them of the power of speech. Seated around a table on which lies a pack of tarot cards, the travellers realise that they can use the pictures on them to relate their adventures. What follows is a complex and clever intertwining of a score of stories, each story overlapping with others, forming a mesh of cards that can be read in a myriad ways. It was Calvino's absurd intention to conjure up all the stories that could be contained in a tarot deck; a "diabolical idea" that obsessed him for years. He spent whole weeks re-arranging cards into ever more elaborate patterns, some of them taking on a third dimension, growing into cubes and polyhedrons, to the extent that (as he later confessed) he became completely lost in them. Within the random sequences of cards, he recognised various well-known tales and legends: the stories of Faust, Hamlet, Oedipus, Parsifal, De Sade's Justine. In the first part of the book, it is the tales of 'Roland Crazed with Love' and 'Astolpho on the Moon', both taken from Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, that form the central axes of the grid upon which all the other stories depend. When read backward, each tale is transformed into something new. For instance, the tale of 'Astolpho' becomes that of 'Helen Of Troy' and the tale of the 'Ingrate' becomes that of the 'Man Who Slew Death'. The new tales that Calvino penned to complete the mosaic share insights with the older fables. Morbid elements abound, partly due to the fact that the key cards in the tales are often the violent ones of the Major Arcana -- Death, the Devil, the Tower of Destruction, the Hanged Man. Although the symbols remain the same, it is the context of a card among its fellows that makes each interpretation unique. When the Graverobber places the Ten Of Cups next to the Last Judgement it is to indicate that he had ascended to a great height and was viewing the cemetery (with its cup-like urns) from above, whereas in another tale the same card could indicate a feast or an alchemist's apparatus. The second part of the book is even more complex than the first. Here, the castle that is also a tavern has become a tavern that is also a castle, and the guests seated at the table in front of the tarot pack have grown impatient. Rather than waiting for each traveller to recount a tale one at a time, the guests attempt to tell all of them simultaneously. The result is a disconcertingly abstract tangram, a jumble of images that attempts to impose form on chaos and ends with the homogenised form of chaos itself. As for the substance of the actual stories, The Tavern of Crossed Destinies shows greater depth than its predecessor. The themes are always fantastic, sometimes horrific, even surreal. There are vampires, ghosts, demons, battles with magical armies and duels with mystic warriors, earthquakes, plagues, trips to the moon, odd sexual encounters, pacts with the devil, zombies, cities in the sky, robots and parallel dimensions. In one tale, women take revenge on men, slaughtering or castrating them before taking over the world. The narrator of this debatable nightmare is told that "no man is spared... only a few, chosen as drones for the hive, are granted a reprieve, but they can expect even more atrocious tortures to quell any desire of boasting." Calvino's dry wit and penchant for the ironic should preclude any hint of insanity on his part, but there is no denying that this is a neurotic book. The first part, The Castle, was originally published in 1969; the second part, The Tavern, followed in 1973. As if realising the dangers that lay ahead, Calvino abandoned his scheme for a third part, The Motel of Crossed Destinies. Instead, he turned to completing his strangest book, Invisible Cities, which was simply an attempt to describe every facet of every imaginary city while in reality only describing one. It is yet to be determined whether Calvino is still the only author willing to write books which, by all the laws of fiction, should not exist...
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My head hurts. In a nice way., 23 Jun 2004
This review is from: The Castle Of Crossed Destinies (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
A palimpsest, no more. A traveller wanders into a castle and finds that, like all the other guests, he has lost the power of speech. At the end of the dinner given by the lord of the castle, a tarot set appears on the table and the various guests use the cards and their depictions to tell their story. Arranging them in different ways, above or below each other, to the left or to the right, the travellers all tell stories straight from the middle age novels of Tristan and Isolde and others. Full of colour, of demons, sorcerers, kings and queens, princesses, nights errant, the devil and days of judgement, the few pages of this novella conjure up a wealth of stories rich in narrative.
None of the travellers is exactly what he seems and none of the stories are exactly what they seem either. For the depictions on the tarot cards are quite vague and, as ever, open to interpretation. We cannot know whether or not our author is correct in his interpretation of the stories he sees unfold before his eyes; does he get mere details wrong or is he mistaken about the entirety of the story?
More than a mere succession of short stories, Calvino has allowed his love of the sets of tarot cards he has encountered to provide him with the platform to explore, on a small scale, the art of story telling, the importance of narrators and the use the author makes of them as filters through which to observe the action. At times, the cards needed by a narrator to tell his story are not available - they have been taken by another; at others, the same card represents a different character from the time it was used before. All is mixed; cards and characters are interchangeable; the tarot set has become the canvas of the world; all the world's a stage and the cards can be used to tell any story, all our stories
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars cult novel that is a literary masterpiece, 30 Aug 2011
By 
rob crawford "Rob Crawford" (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Castle Of Crossed Destinies (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Just as the tarot card reading unfolds in the story, this book has innumerable levels that beg for thought and interpretation: it is part historical novel, part fortune-telling, and part a history of the great classics of western civilization. It is also a fascinating experiment in expanding the literary vehicle, adding the dimension of the cards - functioning as kind of symbolic building blocks as well as a springboard for association - that creates a parallel narrative to the gorgeous descriptive power of the work. Calvino, I feel, has created a work as complex and rich as the best of Nabokov. As with all truly great novels, there is a great deal left unsaid, that the reader can mull over if she so chooses. While the vocabulary was very difficult for my primitive Italian, it was as beautifully written as Calvino's other work.

Warmly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tales contrived from grids of tarot cards, 20 Jun 2011
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Castle Of Crossed Destinies (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
As in "The Canterbury Tales", a disparate group of travellers share tales, but here the similarity ends, since they have lost the power of speech and are forced to communicate by setting out tarot cards, which Calvino also describes as "arcani".

At first, I found the stories unengaging fairy tales, of the knight errant encounters in forest fair maiden who turns out to be ugly old hag variety, although I had an uneasy sense that I might be missing all sorts of allusions through my ignorance of classical and medieval mythology.

Any interest lay partly in working out or grasping what the succession of cards mean. This is not easy as, particularly for the tales told in the castle, the cards are reproduced in such a small size that it is hard to see what they represent. The set of tarot cards used for the second set of tales from "The Tavern of Crossed Destinies" are drawn a little larger and bolder, so easier to decipher. Although it might have added too much to the cost of the book, it would have been better if each card could have been reproduced at least quarter page size, and positioned at the point in the text where it is mentioned. Although there are a few coloured plates of tarot cards in the middle of the book, they are not the "major players" in the stories.

Also, once I realised that, for the castle stories, cards are laid in two parallel rows or columns to form part of an overall grid, whereas for the tavern stories, each one occupies an overlapping block in the grid, further interest stemmed from noticing how the cards for the end of one story are the beginning of another, and how the same card may represent totally different incidents in separate stories. For instance, a card showing cups could mean the celebration of a wedding, or could signify looking down from a city on rows of tombstones. Although sometimes intriguing, the need to preserve the order of the cards often makes for tales that seem contrived and limited.

Occasionally, a story caught my interest, and I began to see "deeper philosophical layers". This first occurred in the Tale of Astolpho on the Moon: on a mission to retrieve the lost sanity of the irreplaceable warrior Roland, Astolpho is sent to the moon where an endless storeroom preserves "the stories that men do not live, the thoughts that knock once at the threshold of awareness and vanish forever, the particles of the possible discarded in the game of combinations, the solutions that could be reached but are never reached.." Much later, in "The Tale of Seeking and Losing", Parsifal concludes, "The kernel of the world is empty, the beginning of what moves in the universe is the space of nothingness, around absence is constructed what exists, at the bottom of the Grail is the Tao" and he points to the empty rectangle at the centre of the grid of tarot cards. All this may of course leave you cold!

However,the stories seem to me to go seriously off the rails at the end where Calvino tries to tell his own story, which becomes very rambling, including reference to paintings in galleries of St Jerome with his lion and St George with the dragon, of which we are not provided any visual examples to help us appreciate his points, whilst he then presents as a grand finale a story which somehow combines bits of King Lear, Hamlet and Macbeth.

Although I can understand the fascination of weaving stories out of a grid of cards, this book is for me no more than a clever gimmick. Calvino has apparently discarded some tales because he thought they did not work, but it seems to me that most of those retained would have benefited from a thorough redrafting. Often the events are quite rushed and garbled, and the characters two-dimensional (card?!) and so lack the power to arouse any sympathy. Perhaps owing to the translation, the wording is at times very stilted or jarring.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the better metafictional texts, 12 July 2010
By 
Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Castle Of Crossed Destinies (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
The Castle of Crossed Destinies is a short, dense book that uses simple elements to create a complex structure. In this it follows the lead of the Tarot pack on which it is based - a game in which a limited number of 'pieces' can produce a near-infinity of permutations.

This being Calvino, there are added complications. The book is divided into two major sections - the 'Castle' and the 'Tavern' - which were written a few years apart. Each is based on a different Tarot, and each has a markedly different tone. In the first, the mute accidental guests of a castle in the forest use the pack to generate tales that seem for the most part logical consequences of their symbols and sequences: they strongly resemble medieval folk tales. In the second, Calvino makes explicit what has only been hinted at: that the ordering of the cards and their interpretation is governed by ambivalence and unreason, and their compelling power rooted less in a rigid system of generation than in the psychology of the players. In this sense, the second part rewrites the first, and what seemed at first a rather dry literary game influenced by the ideas of the Oulipo group emerges as something more powerful and less rational. In the 'Afterword', which can be read as part of the main text, Calvino opens out and destabilises this bipartite structure still further by positing an unwritten third part, the 'Motel'.

Although the book shares with other metafictional texts the property of being concerned with fictionality, the nature of writing and the gap between telling and interpretation, it avoids the sterility of much combinatorial fiction. It might be thought of as a kind of anti-puzzle: instead of closing down towards a definitive solution, it opens up into uncertainty and by implication celebrates the uncontrolled character of the fictive imagination.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Crossed destinies, 28 Dec 2005
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Castle Of Crossed Destinies (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Italo Calvino was a master of surreal storytelling -- he was, for example, one of only two authors I've seen who could manage a second-person narrative. But his gimmick falls flat in "The Castle of Crossed Destinies," a book that is intriguingly laid out, but never manages to be more than a curiosity.
In the first section, a traveler comes to a castle full of other guests, but for some reason no one there is able to speak. To tell each other about their histories, they use a pack of tarot cards to communicate their stories -- tales about love affairs, ancient cities, and Faustian pacts.
The second is pretty much the same, except that it takes place in a tavern, where mute people are still using tarot cards to describe their pasts. The stories -- evil queens, fallen warriors, even an Arthurian tale -- get darker and stranger, especially when the narrator himself began to describe his own past to the people who are watching him and the cards.
As an idea, tarot cards being used to tell a story is brilliant. Especially since the stories that Calvino spins out are not necessarily the only interpretation -- each card used to tell the story can be interpreted differently. The problem is, in the first half of the book, Calvino tries to apply this to some very boring, straightforward little stories. They tend to stop suddenly, without much of a finale.
The second half of the book uses this gimmick more skilfully, with Calvino writing in greater detail, and using more ornate, atmospheric writing. It feels less like stories wrapped around some cards, and more like stories with cards as illustrations of what might have been. He also adds a more eerie, macabre tale to this half, making it even more engaging.
The first half sags in a big way; it's almost tiring to read. But the second half of "Castle of Crossed Destinies" is where Calvino's tarot gimmick starts to pay off. Interesting, but not all that it could have been.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I have ever read, 10 Aug 2013
This review is from: The Castle Of Crossed Destinies (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
This book is absolutely fantastic. The way the author guides us through the raccounteurs' lives, and the cards, is quite creative. It was a great surprise when I read it twenty years ago, and it was still fresh when I read it again. You can not go wrong with Italo Calvino. If you have never read any of his books, start with this. Or with his collection of Italian short stories, which are fantastic as well.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Yawn, 15 Feb 2008
This review is from: The Castle Of Crossed Destinies (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Nice idea. Must have seemed clever and original at the time, but in all honesty just a bit of a bore. OK he tries to cover all the big stories of medieval literature in a novel way, and gets marks for being intellectual, but he whole thing is so smug and self-knowing that it gets dull very quickly. And he does it twice! -- Once in a castle and again in a tavern! I enjoyed the chapter on himself and the chapter merging King Lear, Hamlet and Macbeth into one tangled story, but it took along time to get to them. This book won't take long to read, but it'll feel a lot longer. In the end notes he talks about how he wanted to write a third part but moved on to new projects before he got round to doing it. I like some Calvino a lot... if on a winter's night an traveller and Invisible Cities are far better reads, though. So, go read either of them instead because this one is only worth it to have ticked the box: 'done that, moved on' ... pretty much like the author did it seems.
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The Castle Of Crossed Destinies (Vintage Classics)
The Castle Of Crossed Destinies (Vintage Classics) by Italo Calvino (Paperback - 2 Oct 1997)
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