Fascinated by the haunting images of the earliest known tarot cards, PhD candidate Glen Harrison is determined to research their secular origins. But when Glen proposes his thesis, his Art History professors are less than encouraging. The tarot, they say, is merely decorative, not “true? art. Unsure about his own ability to produce a dissertation, Glen begins to wonder if they aren?t right. Perhaps his attraction to the tarot lies not in their artistic qualities but in their distance from academic associations. Floundering, he scrambles to find a new direction, when a series of seemingly chance encounters and random finds takes him down a new and terrifying path. Perhaps there is something more to the tarot than he has allowed himself to believe. The clues he stumbles upon in the forgotten neighborhoods and hidden libraries of pre-911 New York lead Glen on an inevitable journey to the most hidden reaches of West Africa, where a mystery as dark and ancient as the cards themselves unfurls..
About the author
Born in Chicago, Don Bapst has lived in New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, Ouagadougou, Montreal, Toronto, and Los Angeles. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College, where he studied with Allen Ginsberg, and his work has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines including Exquisite Corpse, The Columbia Poetry Review, Evergreen Chronicles and blue magazine. A French translation of his novel email@example.com was published in 2010 (Éditions Popfiction), and he has translated two novels and a collection of short stories into English from the French, including Gabrielle Wittkop’s Necrophiliac. His theatrical work has been staged in Chicago, New York, Montreal and Toronto. Also a filmmaker, Bapst’s short films have been screened in Toronto, Montreal, and Cannes.
Excerpt: Hanged Man, The (by (author) Don Bapst)
from Chapter One
These cards had been held in the hands of the Italians who had ordered them created. Used for what purpose? To play games, as jaded historians would have everyone believe? I couldn’t believe that such beauty?—?each card a hand-painted treasure of Renaissance art!?—?could only exist to kill time in some overstuffed castle. I had to prove that these cards weren’t simply a European spin on the ancient Chinese game of “money cards,” but a sacred tool of the ancient Egyptians brought to Europe by nomadic Arabs and Romani gypsies?—?a connection many occultists swore by, even if secular Tarot researchers scoffed at the notion.
For me, though, the cards were too charged with symbolism and meaning to be simply a game. Their intricate facades overwhelmed me with the fine detailing of those master craftsmen who’d created them. Each tiny brush mark, each application of pigment, a stroke of genius. For a moment, I forgot about the divinatory significance of each card and was struck merely by the beauty of the artistic technique…
And then the gloved hand unveiled the fourth card in its transparent sheath.
I had studied the reproduction of this card before viewing the original, but nothing had prepared me for the earthiness of its tone, and that smudge along the young page’s profile in such a rich hue. I was reminded of Egyptian hieroglyphs and African pottery. There in the Renaissance depiction of the archetype I carry within me?—?this message-bearing page who has crossed centuries on his quest to enlighten others?—?I found the earth of Africa.
I’m not talking about a symbolic earth, but rather an actual physical quality to the pigment used to paint the card: a gritty streak of savannah sludge worn into the delicate figure as if by the cruel thumb of fate. No, it wasn’t a streak, but rather more like an exposed foundation revealed through the chipped plaster of the white figure’s fragile cheek.
These cards were not born in Europe.
Had I gasped out loud at my discovery, I wondered, as the librarian whisked away the final image from me? My time with the cards had come to an end.
“You are lucky,” she said, as she placed the page back into the box she had used to transfer it from the dark recesses of the library where it was presumably stored. “Normally this particular card is kept in Bergamo.”
I was stunned. “Really? Then why is it here?”
“A wealthy collector of Tarot art was looking to verify the authenticity of a privately acquired piece…” She stopped herself as if realizing she’d revealed too much.