Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Louis Sachar's "The Cardturner"--and bridge

I just finished reading "The Cardturner," by Louis Sachar.  It's a young adult novel about bridge. Yes, bridge, that game people laugh about because they seem to think only little old ladies play it.  The reviews all talk about what amazing talent Sachar possesses to be able to make a game of bridge sound interesting.  I have a feeling these reviewers don't play bridge.  Because the game is fascinating. 

You can rehash bridge hands like football fans rehash plays.  I know.  I played bridge today at the adult center before teaching my evening ESL class, and when I got home—five hours after I played my last card—all I wanted to do was talk about the interesting hands and the bidding catastrophe on the first table.  I must have talked for fifteen minutes.  Luckily my listener is learning the game.  Otherwise it would have sounded like gibberish. 

The game is crazy-complicated, rivaled in difficulty and addictiveness by no other game I know—and I know a lot.  One of my bridge friends plays six days a week.  Many have played twice a week for fifteen years.  And yet they never tire of it.  In "The Cardturner," characters still remember notable hands twenty years later.

That said, I understand how a non bridge player, or especially a non card player, might find Sachar's book confusing or dull.  He does set off the detailed bridge sections so you can skip them if you want, but I have to admit they are some of my favorite parts. 

At times the story feels like an excuse to have a book about bridge, rather like some historical fiction writers just want an excuse to show off their research, but the mysterious back story and the clever interactions of the characters are enough to keep the book going.  If you're a bridge fan, it's a thoroughly enjoyable read.  If you're not a bridge fan, you just may become one. 

I admire Sachar for attempting such a book, and thank the publishers for taking a risk on it.  It would be a shame if bridge were to die out.  Few people of my generation play it, and I fear the next generation will see even fewer, though I heard Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have teamed up to try to encourage teens to learn the game. 

After all, you know all those little old ladies who play bridge?  I'd bet you that part of the reason they've survived to be so old, yet so razor sharp, is the brain exercise they get from this fantastic game. 

My rating:  4

Louis Sachar has written many books for kids and young adults, including Holes, a twisted and magical tale of adventure and fate and lots of digging.  Check out his website at http://www.louissachar.com/   

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