The Solitaire Mystery: A Novel about Family and Destiny

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Overview

From the acclaimed author of the international bestseller Sophie's World comes a modern-day odyssey filled with magic and meaning, fantasy and truth. The Solitaire Mystery weaves an astonishingly original tapestry of tales, both real and imagined, from the viewpoint of a twelve-year-old boy named Hans Thomas. On a car trip through Europe with his father, Hans searches for the mother who left them years ago. At the same time, he immerses himself in a fantastic miniature book that only he can read: the strange, ...
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The Solitaire Mystery

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Overview

From the acclaimed author of the international bestseller Sophie's World comes a modern-day odyssey filled with magic and meaning, fantasy and truth. The Solitaire Mystery weaves an astonishingly original tapestry of tales, both real and imagined, from the viewpoint of a twelve-year-old boy named Hans Thomas. On a car trip through Europe with his father, Hans searches for the mother who left them years ago. At the same time, he immerses himself in a fantastic miniature book that only he can read: the strange, whimsical adventures of a sailor on an island where a deck of cards has come to life. A brilliant balancing act between rhyme and reason, reveries and reality, The Solitaire Mystery invites the reader into both worlds, each chapter represented by a different card from the deck. In the end, the journey of Hans Thomas becomes our own, a universal search for meaning and fulfillment that not only enchants, but enriches our hearts and souls.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425159996
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 11/28/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

About this guide:
The questions and topics in this guide are intended to generate a lively discussion of this fanciful and enigmatic odyssey. We hope your discussion will enrich your enjoyment of this uniquely constructed novel.

ABOUT THE TITLE

When twelve-year-old Hans Thomas and his father set out by car from Norway to search for Hans Thomas's mother in Greece, he is unaware that his life will be changed forever. The bewildering disappearance of his mother many years earlier to "find herself" is just the first of many mysteries he will encounter.

Punctuated by frequent cigarette stops that allow Hans Thomas's father both to smoke and to philosophize about the universe, the journey also features some unusual occurrences: a midget presents Hans Thomas with a magnifying glass and gives them directions that take them miles out of their way to a village named Dorf; the baker in Dorf gives Hans Thomas a bag of sticky-buns, the largest containing a miniature book that is the memoir of a sailor shipwrecked in 1842; and a strange man reappears inexplicably several times along the way. Hans Thomas begins to read the tiny book with the magnifying glass and discovers an amazing connection between himself and the sailor, who describes finding himself on an island where a deck of cards has come to life. Gradually Hans Thomas unravels the mystery of the cards, and the knowledge he gains of the distant past sheds a surprising light on his own life.

The Solitaire Mystery ----the follow-up to the New York Times bestselling Sophie's World---- ingeniously incorporates fantasy and philosophy, fairy tale and family history. It will leave the reader filled with wonder at our very existence, and dazzled by the Great Solitaire that is the story of humankind.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jostein Gaarder, born in 1952 in Norway, taught philosophy for many years before becoming a novelist. He lives with his family in Oslo.

PRAISE

The critics rave about this modern-day fairy tale "in the proud tradition of Alice in Wonderland:"*

"A welcome blend of whimsy and wisdom... A delightful hybrid between Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Michael Ende's The Neverending Story."
-San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle Book Review

"Fascinating... A playful, ingenious, frequently moving celebration of our persistent search for answers to the ultimate questions."- Kirkus Reviews

"An honest-to-goodness dream-making bedtime story for grown-ups... The bright-eyed former philosophy professor knows how to craft a plot plausible enough to support his Mad-hatter characters and flexible enough to allow his wild imagination to splash off the page."
- *Los Angeles Times

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Despite the fact that the novel recounts the progress of several journeys, Hans Thomas begins his story with these words: "My advice to all those who are going to find themselves is: Stay exactly where you are" (p. 9). How has his experience inspired him to make this recommendation? Do you think he will be content as an adult with a life of little adventure? Are you adventurous? Why, or why not?
  2. Hans Thomas is afraid that his wife may "drown in a fashion fairy tale" (p. 10). What other characters are in danger of metaphorically "drowning," and what is similar about the way each is saved?
  3. Do you agree with Hans Thomas's father that very few people are interested in probing the deep mysteries of life? If yes, why do you think this is so? If no, why do you think he believes this to be true? Do you consider yourself a philosopher/ joker? If yes, what are the difficulties and rewards of living the life of "a fool" --- the one who "sees too deeply and too much" (p. 270)?
  4. Reread Hans Thomas's father's lecture on "the ravages of time" (pp. 244-248). How does the concept of the soul counteract the ravages of time, and why do you think so many of the world's religions incorporate this idea in one way or another? What does the Joker have in common with the soul, and does this explain Hans Thomas's father's attraction to the Joker?
  5. Why does Hans Thomas consider his moment of maturation to be his realization that his father dreads meeting his mother again? What do you remember to be the incident that finally made you an adult? Do you think the coming-of-age process must always involve sorrow? Why, or why not?
  6. How has Ludwig's and Stine's "original sin" affected subsequent generations of the family? Compare their tragic story to that of Oedipus (pp 203-207). What is meant by the King of Spades's pronouncement: "The one who sees through destiny must also live through it" (p. 256)?
    Do you think it is possible to escape one's destiny?
  7. Discuss the significance of the Rainbow Soda throughout the novel. How can something so seductively delicious have such drastic side effects? Could Hans Thomas and the other major characters have made their discoveries without it? How can "getting drunk on sensory experience" (p. 325) contribute to an individual's taking life for granted?
  8. Did you find reading this "fairy tale" an interesting new way to look at the world? What other books (or films) have strongly influenced your philosophy of life? Are there things that fiction can accomplish in this regard that nonfiction cannot? Did the novel provide you with a "close encounter of the fourth kind" (see pp. 94-96) and leave you with a renewed sense of wonder?
  9. Discuss the meaning of the Ace of Hearts's declaration: "The inner box unpacks the outer box at the same as the outer box unpacks the inner" (p. 121). How does this idea illuminate the connection between Hans Thomas's trip to Greece and the experience recounted in the sticky-bun book? How does the author enhance the reader's enjoyment and understanding of the novel by employing clever literary devices (e.g. using palindromes and backward speaking , constructing characters and chapters from decks of cards)?
  10. Do you believe human beings to be "lively, living fantasies" (p. 222) just like Frode's card figures? If so, what is the origin of these fantasies --- God? Our families? Destiny? And what are the dangers or benefits inherent in not knowing who is dealing the cards in the "great solitaire" (p. 302)?
  11. Why do you think the author makes the sticky-bun book disappear at the end of the novel? How does this contribute to the "unsolved" nature of The Solitaire Mystery, and did you find the novel's conclusion appropriate? Satisfying? Convincing?

RELATED TITLES

The Christmas Mystery


Sophie's World

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2006

    An unforgettable novel.

    I first read this novel at the age of twelve, and it's one of the select few I've re-read. The story is such that readers of all denominations (or lack thereof) can relate. Highly recommended for those that appreciate thought-provoking stories off the beaten path.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2002

    one of my favorite books

    Books dominate my home; even with six bookcases, there are also quite a few 2-foot-high stacks of books that haven't don't have a bookshelf to sit on. But after I finished Solitaire Mystery, I deliberately cleared a place next to my most treasured books -- signed hardcovers of favorite authors -- for it. It was much too important to me to leave lying in one of those piles on the floor. // Part of the enjoyment for me is the rare combination of simplicity and complexity. The adept mixture of magic into a very real world is good enough to recommend the book on its own, but the way multiple literary threads are woven into a deceptively easy-to-read tapestry appeals to me very much. // I would recommend Solitaire Mystery to anyone who likes to ponder alternative explanations for commonly accepted events, anyone who enjoys allegory or especially multiple levels of allegory, anyone who enjoys good writing, any adult capable of still living the best parts of young adulthood, and for that part, anyone. Because so many of the tapestry's threads are common ones in my family (travel, cards, literature (we tend towards librarianism), etc.), Solitaire Mystery is the object I have deemed most worthy of giving to my mother this year for Mother's Day. Soon I will think of a good excuse to give it to my sister as well. // Enjoy!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2013

    Please help me

    I am reading this in class and was wondering if anyone had any advise for me. I would love to hear about your favorite part or a line you thought was really special. Title your entry: To Student. Thanks for your help!

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  • Posted January 22, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    While not as directly philosophical as his earlier (and excellen

    While not as directly philosophical as his earlier (and excellent book) “Sophie’s World”, "The Solitaire Mystery" uses a story within a story to pose similar questions. Who are you? Why are you here? Where did you come from? And, most importantly, how do you know these answers? The tale itself is a fanciful but fun narrative of a philosophically inclined father and his son traveling to Athens, Greece (!) to find a parent who left them years ago. But on the way, son Hans Thomas has mysterious encounters that result in possession of a book so small it requires a magnifying glass to read. The story in the book relates the story of yet another traveler who is stranded on an island inhabited by characters that are strikingly similar to a pack of cards including the Queen of Hearts (Hello, Alice!) and the Joker, the later playing a prominent role throughout the story. How these cards came to life is reminiscent of the Bishop Berkeley’s ideas on why we exist (we are visions in the eyes of God). This is a great tale for those who like stories with a strong philosophical bent, and even for those who don’t.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2004

    Complimentary book to the living Book(bible)

    To me this is an awesome book. it definately compliments the bible even though it is not religiously based. i love it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2004

    Excellent

    This has to be one of the most creative stories I have ever read. You can see similarities between this and Sophies World (another great Gaarder book) but I think this is the better of the two.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2003

    Amazing

    I thought that this book was absolutly amazing. It is now my favorite book. It gives an interesting look at family and fate while still playing on the side of fiction and fantasy. I couldn't put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2003

    Wonderbar!

    You will read this book over and over again it just gets more and more interesting everytime you read it. For once its a book that is genuinely interesting. While its not overly complicated it definately makes you think. Everytime you read it you pick up on something new. Great book, i would recommend it to anyone

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2002

    Truly Magnificent

    The story of a young norwegian boy, that travels to Greece with his father, to find back his mother who left them, receives a magical touch fairly early in the book; a small book comes in Hans¿ possession and a magical world is being opened up. If you read the story in the story, you become completely absorbed by this world and you¿ll be amazed of the fine webbing of this story. The carefully build up & brilliantly constructed story turns and flows, touches and confronts. The reader will definitely feel a changed person, after realizing the contents and if he or she stops and thinks about the raised questions.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2001

    Joker's Wild!

    The Solitaire Mystery consecutively traces the journeys of Hans Thomas, as he travels to Athens in search of his mother, and of Baker Hans, whom Hans Thomas reads about in the Sticky Bun Book. Wound into the story are the philosophical ponderings of Hans Thomas' father, who simply cannot believe how incredible it is to be alive. It all begins when a baker gives Hans Thomas four sticky buns, one containing a mysterious surprise. Ultimately, Hans Thomas comes face to face with his own destiny, as he realises how fate has woven itself into his life in the form of a pack of cards.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2001

    Absolutely Outstanding

    The novel, The Solataire Mystery, was an outstanding book. I recommend this book to anyone from teenager on up. I read it my senior year in high school, but have also enjoyed reading it again and again since then. If you are a believer in fate and destiny this book will definitely spark your interest and also adds a little insight into philosophy. I enjoyed this book very much and highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2000

    Are you a Joker? Read on to find out.. .

    This book by Jostein Gaarder reminds us all of the beauty of life. He challenges us, through the Joker and the other 52 cards, never to lose the excitement of a breathtaking sunset and never to forget to follow our dreams. The parallel stories of the boy and the deck and the boy searching for his mother make the book twice as interesting. This is a must read for anyone who still has some soul-searching left to do!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2000

    I love this book

    it's just so amazing. i love how the 52 cards are 52 people. Guaranteed to be great!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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