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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pavic's LAST LOVE IN CONSTANTINOPLE: A Tarot Novel For Divination

For background on Pavic, see my many entries on him by looking him up in the list of topics to the right or by going to this webpage: Milorad Pavic Homepage.

One of Pavic's last works, this fascinating book can be read one of two ways: straight through from beginning to end or based on various tarot readings. A pack of tarot cards is provided, and as well as models of the various ways of laying out the cards. Every chapter of the book coincides with one of the cards, so it is possible to read the book in the order demanded by the tarots rather than front to back.

I read the book twice: once front to back, and once using the tarot method. I suggest that anyone who wants to tackle the book do as I did because things get confusing if you don't have a overall, global sense of the book. This may, in fact, be a criticism of Pavic because it means that the book is difficult, if not impossible, to be read in a wholly reversible manner. By 'reversible' I refer to Pavic's wanting to write novels that were like sculptures or paintings in that there was no linearity to how viewers work their way around the art object. But this is hardly damning.

The book is about the hostile and friendly interactions between three families, the Opujic's, the Tenecki's, and the Kalopervic's around the turn of the 19th century. The hostile aspect has to do with them fighting on different sides of a war between Serbia (I think), and France. The friendly aspect has to to with intermarriages.

Each chapter is a fairly self-contained story about members of these families. They are replete with magic: a woman growing out of a tail, a man having three deaths, an ability to hear below ground, and so on.

Randomness, of course, is at the structural heart of the book. In a way, it takes the place of the traditional plot. With all the magic and the wild characters it adds up to a book that presents us with a world that is in many ways ordered according to our imaginations. Yes, it is true that the cards we are dealt are random and we have no control over them. But we do have control over how we respond to them and interpret them.

There is a bouyancy and ebullience to this book. It revels in how magical stories can be and, in addition, how magical we can be if we let ourselves.

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