This book is told in two parts: The Castle and The Tavern. In both situations, a group of strangers come together around a table and strangely, inexplicably find themselves all mute. They yearn to tell each other their stories, and thankfully someone has a deck of Tarot cards with which each person attempts to choose cards to lay out in various configurations in order to communicate their tale.
In the first half, The Castle, things are orderly; people take turns telling their story and they are judicious about which card is chosen. The narrator is similarly judicious in taking the time to describe each card, interpret what the card could mean, and then weave that interpretation into the narrative of the person pulling cards. In the second half, The Tavern, things are much more unruly. People are constantly scrambling for cards at the same time, and the narrator has no choice but to fold and weave each card into the story without much analysis ahead of time.
Overall, Calvino explores a very interesting concept: what is meaning and how do we attain it? There are multiple places where meaning is created and presented that could be entirely incorrect. On one level, the storytellers are looking at the cards and finding their own meaning. The next level, the narrator finds his own meaning in the card. Next, the narrator presents his interpretation of that meaning within the context of the story. However, we, the readers, also have our own meaning to the cards that, at least in my case, completely contradicts the meaning that the narrator finds. So what is true? We will never know.
The concept is very cool and fun. I could occupy myself for a while just thinking about this. However, Calvino presents way too many stories. It’s just unnecessary. By the third tale, I didn’t get anything new out of the tales. For this reason, I stopped reading about 2/3s of the way through. I got the gist.