The Tarot Café, Volume I by Sang-Sun Park
Review by Diane Wilkes

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I can not tell you how many years this little volume has sat coyly on various table tops in my apartment, waiting patiently for me to open it and start reading. One night before bed, I finally did--and read until I finished it.

Don't be too impressed with my reading feat--The Tarot Café checks in at a bantamweight 184 pages, which I had to check on Amazon, because the pages are unnumbered. And it's manga, which, unless you've been living under a rock or have no interactions with children or teenagers, is a genre of (usually) black and white serialized comics on all manner of subjects. Park has chosen the tarot as hers, and, while I have little to no personal experience reading manga, if she is typical of the artists, color me impressed. Six original tarot cards (and some modeled on the Aquarian and Lo Scarabeo's Art Nouveau) are interspersed with the storylines and a colorized Magician card on the book cover have me lusting for a deck by Park. Her stylized, art-deco-ish illustrations remind me of my beloved Derakkusu Tarot.

The story is told by the owner of the café, the clairvoyant Pamela. She reads for an unusual clientele. In these first four tales or "episodes," she reads for a magical cat, a vampire seeking his really-long-lost love, a fairy, and an alchemist. The book alludes to another tale--that of the mysterious Pamela--but we know we will get at least dribs and drabs of that story in the following volumes. The ultra-romantic stories are told with a mordant, unexpected humor. When told she is unusual, Pamela responds, "Ordinary people can't talk with cats" and moves on to examining the next card. There is also an unexpected disregard for heterosexual storylines. Even the males that people the stories look very feminine and it's hard to distinguish them from the females.

According to my (minimal) research, there are seven volumes of The Tarot Café, which concludes with a visit to Hell and completes Pamela's story. There are also two Tarot Café novels (entitled, not surprisingly, Tarot Café Novels). These are written by Chandra Rooney and illustrated by Park, and are actual novels, not manga. If my to-be-read (TBR) pile didn't threaten to decapitate me, I'd have read more of the manga series and maybe even dipped my toes into the novels. But my TBR pile does threaten, and so I can only say that the first volume will appeal to fans of tarot-themed literature and adolescents, particularly of the feminine variety.

 Review Copyright © 2009 Diane Wilkes