Book: The Castle of Crossed Destinies

Nothing ever prepares me for Italo Calvino. The breadth of his imagination, to me, is limitless. I absolutely adore him. At some time, I’m sure I’ll write a post dedicated to his life, his works and his legacy. But for now, let me talk about another of his books – The castle of crossed destinies.

A group of travellers chance to meet, first in a castle, then a tavern. Their powers of speech are magically taken from them and instead they have only tarot cards with which to tell their stories. What follows is an exquisite interlinking of narratives, and a fantastic, surreal and chaotic history of all human consciousness.

What make this book so wonderful? It uses tarot cards to tell a story. Genius. He doesn’t take the meanings the cards already have, instead he simply uses the pictures of the cards to tell different stories. The same card could represent a variety of things as each traveller tries to convey his story through the pictures on the card. And what makes it even better and is clearer in the castle scene, is how the stories link up.

Calvino Tarot Cards Castle


This is the diagram of how the cards are laid out in the castle segment. It’s so amazing perfect. How the stories seamlessly flow into each other. The amount of time and effort it took was probably insane! I love this book, because it allows the reader to follow the story not just in words but also through the pictures. It is really fun watching the story unfold through the cards.

A similar story unfolds in the tavern. Here the links aren’t as precise of perfected. Yet there is a strong and pervasive change in the atmosphere. It’s seen the way the people in tavern act as compared to those in the castle. The way in which they grab at cards, fight for them even, changes everything. The meanings in the cards continue to change and new stories are formed through pictures. Stories like Hamlet and Macbeth are given new life in the cards and then again in words. Sheer brilliance.

Yes, the stories can get confusing. Sometimes the association between picture and character/scene is not perceived. The author’s story included in the book is hard to follow. It weaves in and out of past and present. It talks about the writer’s struggles, misgivings, doubts. Many times I had to reread a sentence. Sometimes a paragraph and I still don’t think I’ve grasped his whole meaning. Yet putting that one story aside, the rest are actually easier to read and understand.

There is a note at the end of the book, describing his process of writing this book. The use of different cards for the two different parts and the possibility of writing a third more modern part. I wish he did, but these two parts have already shown me what I already knew. His autobiographical words aren’t my favourite, but in the realm of telling new stories out of old things. He is the best I have ever read.

I have decided that his works deserve a spot on my book shelves. May I add that the vintage classics have really interesting covers for his works.

The castle of crossed destinies

Doesn’t that just look amazing, and it brings across the concept of the work so well.

Also, there will be more of his books appearing in the near future. I had the best luck at the library and managed to lay my hands on invisible cities and if on a winter’s night a traveller. I can’t wait to read them!


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