The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

Summary: When Alton Richards’s great-uncle goes blind, he asks him to read and hold his cards for him during bridge games—even though he has never met his uncle and he knows nothing about the game.  Alton soon discovers his great-uncle’s dream is to become a Grand Life Master, but earning the status requires that he win a national tournament, and his time may be running out.  Meanwhile, Alton’s parents are pressuring him to make sure they are mentioned in his will, and Alton is too interested in his uncle’s mysterious past and his attractive but potentially “crazy” neighbor to care about the money at all.

Review: I actually know several people (my age) who play bridge, and my experiences made me completely emphasize with Alton’s situation.  I know what it is like to be surrounded by people speaking about “trump” and “contracts” and “finessing” and have no idea what they are talking about; Alton calls it “bridge gibberish.”  Alton is also completely on mark when he observes that the thing bridge players like second best, after actually playing bridge, is talking about their hands and how they should have played—whether this game was an hour ago or two years ago.   He was even as surprised as I was to learn there are bridge magazines.  Several of them.

When Sachar wrote the book, he did not have readers like me (or my friends who play bridge) in mind.  It is very true that today the game is played mostly by older people.  He even opens the novel with an analogy where you, the reader, go to a different planet and want to write a book about baseball because you love the game and think it would be a really good story—but no one in your audience knows what baseball is.  It presents problems.  Sachar’s biggest concern appears to be balance between telling the story and explaining bridge enough that people understand the story.  He handles this in part by marking parts that might be boring with a whale image (a reference to Moby Dick), so that readers can skip them.  He does not seem worried his readers might be so uninterested in bridge that they might not want to read the book at all.  Readers are supposed to relate to Alton, who is also very confused by the game when the book begins.

That said, I cannot really determine whether Sachar did successfully tell young adults a story about bridge.  The Cardturner is well-written, funny, moving, and filled with great characters.  But I loved it mostly because in some ways it eerily paralleled my life; I do not think most young adults can say that.  And even though I have never played bridge, my knowledge of the game is not quite at zero.  I highly recommend this book, but I am unsure whether I am a somewhat biased reader.

Published: 2010


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