The Prague Cemetery

The Prague Cemetery


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The #1 international bestseller, from Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose

“Vintage Eco . . . the book is a triumph.” – New York Review of Books

Nineteenth-century Europe—from Turin to Prague to Paris—abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious. Jesuits plot against Freemasons. Italian republicans strangle priests with their own intestines. French criminals plan bombings by day and celebrate Black Masses at night. Every nation has its own secret service, perpetrating forgeries, plots, and massacres. Conspiracies rule history. From the unification of Italy to the Paris Commune to the Dreyfus Affair to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Europe is in tumult and everyone needs a scapegoat. But what if, behind all of these conspiracies, both real and imagined, lay one lone man?

“[Eco] demonstrates once again that his is a voice that compels our attention” – San Francisco Chronicle

“Choreographed by a truth that is itself so strange a novelist need hardly expand on it to produce a wondrous tale . . . Eco is to be applauded for bringing this stranger-than-fiction truth vividly to life.” – New York Times

“Classic Eco, with a difference.” – Los Angeles Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547844206
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 09/04/2012
Pages: 444
Sales rank: 306,081
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Umberto Eco is the author of six best-selling novels and numerous collections of essays. A professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, he lives in Italy.


Bologna, Italy

Date of Birth:

January 5, 1932

Date of Death:

February 19, 2016

Place of Birth:

Alessandria, Italy


Ph.D., University of Turin, 1954

Read an Excerpt



A passerby on that gray morning in March 1897, crossing, at his own risk and peril, place Maubert, or the Maub, as it was known in criminal circles (formerly a center of university life in the Middle Ages, when students flocked there from the Faculty of Arts in Vicus Stramineus, or rue du Fouarre, and later a place of execution for apostles of free thought such as Étienne Dolet), would have found himself in one of the few spots in Paris spared from Baron Haussmann’s devastations, amid a tangle of malodorous alleys, sliced in two by the course of the Bièvre, which still emerged here, flowing out from the bowels of the metropolis, where it had long been confined, before emptying feverish, gasping and verminous into the nearby Seine. From place Maubert, already scarred by boulevard Saint-Germain, a web of narrow lanes still branched off, such as rue Maître-Albert, rue Saint-Séverin, rue Galande, rue de la Bûcherie, rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, as far as rue de la Huchette, littered with filthy hotels generally run by Auvergnat hoteliers of legendary cupidity, who demanded one franc for the first night and forty centimes thereafter (plus twenty sous if you wanted a sheet).
  If he were to turn into what was later to become rue Sauton but was then still rue d’Amboise, about halfway along the street, between a brothel masquerading as a brasserie and a tavern that served dinner with foul wine for two sous (cheap even then, but all that was affordable to students from the nearby Sorbonne), he would have found an impasse, or blind alley, which by that time was called impasse Maubert, but up to 1865 had been called cul-de-sac d’Amboise, and years earlier had housed a tapis-franc (in underworld slang, a tavern, a hostelry of ill fame, usually run by an ex-convict, and the haunt of felons just released from jail), and was also notorious because in the eighteenth century there had stood here the laboratory of three celebrated women poisoners, found one day asphyxiated by the deadly substances they were distilling on their stoves.
  At the end of that alleyway, quite inconspicuous, was the window of a junk shop that a faded sign extolled as Brocantage de Qualité — a window whose glass was covered by such a thick layer of dust that it was hard to see the goods on display or the interior, each pane being little more than twenty centimeters square, all held together by a wooden frame. Beside the window he would have seen a door, always shut, and a notice beside the bell pull announcing that the proprietor was temporarily absent.
 But if, as rarely happened, the door was open, anyone entering would have been able to make out, in the half-light illuminating that dingy hovel, arranged on a few precarious shelves and several equally unsteady tables, a jumble of objects that, though attractive at first sight, would on closer inspection have turned out to be totally unsuitable for any honest commercial trade, even if they were to be offered at knock-down prices. They included a pair of fire dogs that would have disgraced any hearth, a pendulum clock in flaking blue enamel, cushions once perhaps embroidered in bright colors, vase stands with chipped ceramic putti, small wobbly tables of indeterminate style, a rusty iron visiting-card holder, indefinable pokerwork boxes, hideous mother-of-pearl fans decorated with Chinese designs, a necklace that might have been amber, two white felt slippers with buckles encrusted with Irish diamantes, a chipped bust of Napoleon, butterflies under crazed glass, multicolored marble fruit under a once transparent bell, coconut shells, old albums with mediocre watercolors of flowers, a framed daguerreotype (which even then hardly seemed old) — so if someone, taking a perverse fancy to one of those shameful remnants of past distraints on the possessions of destitute families, and finding himself in front of the highly suspicious proprietor, had asked the price, he would have heard a figure that would have deterred even the most eccentric collector of antiquarian teratology.
  And if the visitor, by virtue of some special permission, had continued on through a second door, separating the inside of the shop from the upper floors of the building, and had climbed one of those rickety spiral staircases typical of those Parisian houses whose frontages are as wide as their entrance doors (cramped together sidelong, one against the next), he would have entered a spacious room that, unlike the ground-floor collection of bric-a-brac, appeared to be furnished with objects of quite a different quality: a small three-legged Empire table decorated with eagle heads, a console table supported by a winged sphinx, a seventeenth-century wardrobe, a mahogany bookcase displaying a hundred or so books well bound in morocco, an American-style desk with a roll top and plenty of small drawers like a secrétaire. And if he had passed into the adjoining room, he would have found a luxurious four-poster bed, a rustic étagère laden with Sèvres porcelain, a Turkish hookah, a large alabaster cup and a crystal vase; on the far wall, panels painted with mythological scenes, two large canvases representing the Muses of History and Comedy and, hung variously upon the walls, Arab barracans, other oriental cashmere robes and an ancient pilgrim’s flask; and a washstand with a shelf filled with toiletry articles of the finest quality — in short, a bizarre collection of costly and curious objects that perhaps indicated not so much a consistency and refinement of taste as a desire for ostentatious opulence.
  Returning to the first room, the visitor would have made out an elderly figure wrapped in a dressing gown, sitting at a table in front of the only window, through which filtered what little light illuminated the alleyway, who, from what he would have been able to glimpse over that man’s shoulders, was writing what we are about to read, and which the Narrator will summarize from time to time, so as not to unduly bore the Reader.
  Nor should the Reader expect the Narrator to reveal, to his surprise, that this figure is someone already named, since (this being the very beginning of the story) no one has yet been named. And the Narrator himself does not yet know who the mysterious writer is, proposing to find this out (together with the Reader) while both of us look on inquisitively and follow what he is noting down on those sheets of paper

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"I find this book fascinating, perhaps the best Eco has written in years." —Huffington Post   "A well-executed thriller . . . provocative and suspenseful." —USA Today

"[Eco's] latest takes that longtime thriller darling, the conspiracy theory, and turns it into something grander...Sold to 40 countries and said to be controversial; a speed-read with smarts." —Library Journal, "My Picks"

"A whirlwind tour of conspiracy and political intrigue...this dark tale is delightfully embellished with sophisticated and playful commentary on, among other things, Freud, metafiction, and the challenges of historiography." —Booklist

"Intriguing, hilarious....a tale by a master." —Publishers Weekly boxed review

"He's got a humdinger in this new high-level whodunit...a perplexing, multilayered, attention-holding mystery." —Kirkus, starred

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The Prague Cemetery 2.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 72 reviews.
Cramsdal More than 1 year ago
I have found previous translations of Eco sometimes almost impenetrable, but it seems that in this novel he has found a new translator who has succeeded in making Eco's sometimes convoluted writing accessible. In the wit of the narrative those of us who have heard interviews with Eco can almost see the wicked sparkle in his eye. I would hesitate to call The Prague Cemetery a novel, since there is not much fiction here. Most of the events recounted really did happen and the characters and their speech and actions are well documented. Rather it is an exploration of the origins of historical inaccuracy and myth and a clever polemic barb thrust deeply and viciously into the hearts of those who are infected with racial and cultural prejudice. Although the story is rooted in 19th century Europe, the message is clearly of a singularly contemporary nature. The intelligent reader should take from this book an awareness and sensitivity to the gullibility and prejudice that remain so dangerous in society today.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel has a meandering plot that is nearly impossible to follow. And the ending is lame. Pass. ~*~LEB~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book. Hard to believe that most of it is based on historical facts. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
NeilDalley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a clever book and it is extremely well written. But having said that, I didn't enjoy it one bit. It is a tale of unremitting evil and it leaves a nasty taste behind. It is also hard to understand what the real purpose of it is. Most of it is based on fact but honestly I have read many more interesting history texts than this. Whole swathes of history are thrown at you with very little engagement and the plot is really quite ludicrous. There is no characterisation and I felt no involvement with any of the people who appear.The only purpose I can see behind it is to remind us that it is ridiculous to blame society's evils on one individual and yet repeatedly that is exactly what we do. Was Fascism the creation of the people at the top or a product of society itself? If nothing else the book seems a long argument about why it is impossible to blame the individual.This is a very poor relation to Eco's "Name of the Rose" and if you are tempted to read it because you loved that book don't be misled - I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone.
thejohnsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Notary, master forger and thoroughly nasty central character, Captain Simonini, is put at the heart of many 19th Century conspiracies either involving or targetting, Freemasons, Jews, Jesuits, Germans and more. This novel uses the fictional Simonini to tie together multiple historical events. A novel that I found very entertaining.
hobbitprincess on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
True confession time: I didn't understand a large part of this book. I got the gist of it all, but that's about it. I read one review that said a masters in literature would be essential to understanding it. I disagree. I have a masters in English, and it was no help at all. I think a masters in European history with a focus on the mid-1800s would be the best way to grasp all that is here. It's a book I will have to reread at some time. The characters in the book are all real except for the main character, and I know the research was excellent. I can appreciate all that. I won't try to summarize the novel here. Basically, though, it's about a master forger who may have been responsible for the Protocols of Zion, the questionable document that lead to the anti-Semitic feelings that culminated in the Holocaust.
Gwendydd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge Umberto Eco fan, and usually enjoy books of his that other people don't really like, but I was very disappointed with this book. The book tells the story of Captain Simonini (to give just one of his pseudonyms), an Italian who lives in Paris and forges legal documents for a living. His family was anti-Semite and anti-Freemason, and he is fascinated by a particular story of conspirators meeting in a cemetery in Prague to hold rituals and plot against the world. Simonini ends up working as a spy, and is basically asked by various government people to invent conspiracies and write documents incriminating Freemasons and Jews. So the book details his increasingly ambitious creations and false conspiracies. There is another aspect to the book: the story unfolds in the diaries of Simonini. He actually has a split personality, and neither personality knows the other, so they write in the same diary, trying to figure out if they are the same person or not, filling in gaps in each others' memories. This sounds pretty interesting, but I think it is rather poorly executed. A lot of the dialog between Simonini's personalities is actually summarized by a Narrator, whose presence is never really clearly explained and who seems totally unnecessary, except as a shortcut to save Eco the bother of writing dialog between two characters. Eco often has some very interesting insights about memory and its relationship to reality, but I didn't feel like this device actually added anything to the story.My final problem with the book is that all of the characters were really despicable. Simonini is a nasty man, and he causes deaths and ultimately genocide without a second thought. It was really hard to care what happened to him, because he was such a rotten person.There were times when I thought about abandoning this book. I am glad I read to the end, because the last few pages were satisfying, but I still found this to be a huge disappointment.
tottman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Umberto Eco claims that he wants the narrator of The Prague Cemetery to be the most disagreeable character imaginable. He is certainly that. Although he is painted in a way that it allows you to laugh at his ignorance rather than be horrified at it. The novel is a path through history through the eyes of this narrator. At times funny, and brilliantly so, it is ultimately tedious. The passages and descriptions go on, and on, and on until you begin flipping ahead to see if something new is happening anytime soon. The story structure also moves disjointedly forward. It¿s not clear why you move from one scene to the next other than the author tired of one episode and wanted to begin another. The only redeeming feature of this novel is that the writing is sometimes wonderfully well-done. Taken as a whole, however, it¿s practically unreadable. A drastic re-editing is a minimal necessity. Two stars.I received a copy of The Prague Cemetery for review through netgalley.
AnneDenney on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating read. The main character is reminiscent of Suesskind's Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, with a more political (and less psychopathic) note. Eco is very much worth reading, for his language as much as for his stories and characters.
Strider66 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Translated from Italian by Richard DixonPros: fascinating look at a period of history largely ignored by modern readers, thought provokingCons: lots of politically incorrect and thereby uncomfortable speeches, vivid depiction of a black mass, unlikable protagonistSimone Simonini's personal motto is, Odi ergo sum. I hate, therefore I am. An Italian living in Paris, Simonini hates: the Germans, the French, the Italians, women, Jesuits, and most importantly, the Jews. Which is why, after years of forging documents and fermenting chaos for various government agencies, he has created his masterpiece - a document that will turn the nations of the world against the Jews.The novel begins with Simonini having lost his memory. He starts a diary in order to remember who he is, starting with his youth. Abbe Dalla Piccola, living in an adjoining apartment, has also lost his memory, but seems to know what happened during segments of Simonini's past, adding his own notes to Simonini's writings. Are they the same person? Or did Simonini merely confess these actions to the abbot?Simonini is not a likable protagonist, and the book is an uncomfortable read, both due to Simonini's extremely vitriolic hate speeches (against many groups but there's more anti-semitic sentiment than others) as well as for a detailed description of a black mass (modified Latin and all). The second chapter of the book serves as a litmus test for the rest, shocking the reader and daring you to read on. If you can get past chapter 2 you'll have read the worst - though not the only - hate speeches in the book.The book takes place during the late 1800s, when racist sentiments were the norm. Based on real people and events, it's a difficult, yet fascinating world to be thrown into. Along the way you encounter Alexander Dumas, Sigmund Freud (spelled Froide in the book), the Satanic cultist Abbot Boullan and more. From the Second Italian War of Independence to the Paris Commune of 1871, you'll be exposed to the bitter realities of the times. A reader would do well to have quick access to wikipedia in order to learn more about some of the strange - and accurate - things mentioned. The Prague Cemetery is more accessible to the average reader than some of Eco's other novels which, given the sarcasm inherent in his forward and afterward is likely due to pressure from his publisher. Most of the foreign language segments have been translated into English, and he's helpfully provided a timeline at the back of the book for those who couldn't follow the narrative. A dramatis personae list would have been more helpful, as characters pass in and out of the work so frequently it's hard to remember who they are when they return.In his forward Eco makes it clear that having his meticulously researched work of fiction compared to a popular (and more fanciful) work like The Da Vinci Code is something of an insult, despite how entertaining the latter book may be. He assumes there are two types of readers - The Da Vinci Code thrill seeker who will take all the events depicted in The Prague Cemetery as entertaining fiction, and the more intelligent reader who is interested in history and recognizes the real events and characters depicted and who see the horror inherent in the underlying message that real people did these things.It seems that Eco is commenting on how far we as humans have come in the past two hundred years, by reminding us of where we've been. If so, it's also a warning of how easy it is to fall prey to visionaries, revolutionaries and fraudsters. And how readily others are willing to exploit us. Caveat lector: Let the reader, beware.
AlleyCat07 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A difficult read. You have to stick with it. Alot of literary flourish and it is complicated by the use of flashbacks.
lostinalibrary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the prologue to The Prague Cemetery, author Umberto Eco says that he wished to create the 'most cynical and nasty character of all literature'. He has succeeded in spades with Captain Simone Simonini, master forger, thief, and murderer. Simonini is anti almost everyone - Germans, Italians, French, Free masons, Jesuits, women , but he retains his greatest hatred for the Jews - not that he actually knows many Jews, of course, but, then, who needs to know a group of people to hate them.The book is set during the turbulent years of the mid- 19th century and, according to Eco, everything in the novel is based on history, except, of course, Simonini himself (although he is supposedly the grandson of a real man). The plots, counter-plots, bombings, and executions actually occurred but, in this black comedy of a novel, Simoninini, is always lurking somewhere in the background in every case, stirring things up and leaving a swath of destruction in his wake. He works as an agent for anyone who can pay - at times, he is working simultaneously for opposing forces - he falsifies documents against the Masons for the Jesuits and against the Jesuits for the Masons.In this novel, Simoninini is the man behind some of the most famous and damaging documents of all times; he forges the documents that condemned Dreyfus and, worse, he is the man behind the most pernicious of all forgeries, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a document used to justify many pogroms against the Jews throughout eastern Europe during the end of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th centuries and would eventually be used by Hitler to justify the Final Solution. It also provided the title for this novel.The Prague Cemetery is not always an easy novel to read - for people who have little or no knowledge of the historical background (eg Garibaldi and the unification of Italy), it can seem downright daunting at times. However, the background history is really of less importance than the plots and counterplots that were being hatched at the time and which are the basis for Eco's message that history is full of these half-truths and outright lies and nothing should be taken at face-value. Because something is written down doesn't make it true. And Eco makes his case with great glee, much black humour, and a great amount of compassion for the victims of all these lies.
GarySeverance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Umberto Eco has written a detailed historical novel about 19th Century Europe chronicling the chaos of expanding international communication. Information became the gold standard of political and economic competition. It was often manipulated with biased reporting and the creation of fictional events. When the sound and the fury reached a critical level, all that was needed was a scapegoat to unite power brokers with a common thread. The novel is a story of an Italian man living in Paris who developed proficiency in the art of reporting and creating information, a transmission agent involved in the many conspiracies of governments, religions, and private organizations. Simonini is a historical lynchpin whose personality is the result of the views of his grandfather and father who taught him to stereotype people, usually in a negative way. In his diary,Simonini writes about his upbringing and adventures as a forger, writer of fictional accounts, conversational manipulator, and gourmand. He writes that historical factions and intrigues come and go, but the anti-Semitic stereotype remains valuable in both his writer-for-hire work and his private thoughts. He describes his greatest work as a fictional account of a meeting by Jewish elders in a Prague cemetery where they developed a plan to take over the world. Jewish people, because of their education and training, could infiltrate and ultimately control all aspects of Western life. Since they hide their Jewish identity, their infiltration, when described in official documents, is taken as frightening evidence of a grand Jewish conspiracy. By manipulating information about clandestine activities, Simonini helps to increase the ever present anti-Semitism related to hatred of bankers and other holders of privilege. Simonini's self-serving actions set the stage for "the final solution" of the Jewish problem in the middle 20th Century.This very interesting novel is complex in its historical detail and it takes some time to understand the wheeling and dealing activities of conflicting parties. Mr. Eco includes a time-line for following incidents in the diary. He also includes a narrator to explain some of Simonini's diary contents. I found the events in the novel to be remarkably similar to 21st Century information misdirection and nefarious plots that have led us to the brink of world chaos. Much of the world now continues to blame the Jewish people for economic and social problems. We see Western politicians and journalists acting like Simonini in their reinforcement of this anti-Semitism. Are we encouraging another "final solution?"The Prague Cemetery is an excellent novel for readers who enjoy rich and complex historical detail and the humor and self-serving motivation of interesting characters. The novel is similar in theme to The Name of the Rose in its focus on the power of the written word.
careburpee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
[B]The Prague Cemetery[/B] by Umberto Eco ¿¿¿In general I am a huge fan of Umberto Eco, and as such I was eagerly awaiting the release of the English translation of [B]The Prague Cemetery[/B]. I am sad to say that all of those elements that I love about Eco¿s writing-the intelligent plotting, the dense prose, the belief in his reader¿s ability to follow where he leads-have been carried to excess with this one.The story is narrated by three voices, two of which are one person with a split personality, and the third is an unreliable voice of no discernible provenance. I must give a warning here about the main character. Eco has stated that he attempted to create the most despicable of all literary characters. The book begins with a rant that, had I not agreed to review the novel, would have had me tossing this one aside. If you are Jewish, German, French, Italian, or female and are sensitive to vitriol, the opening pages might offend you greatly. In point of fact I must admit that as the pages roll on the reader can see that stereotypes of prejudices are being played upon, and the reader begins to perceive the shape of a truly reprehensible character and ceases for the most part to be offended personally. The one thing which continued to cause me a fair measure of unease as I read is the virulent anti-semitism. I know that distrust and dislike of the Jewish people has been rampant throughout European history, and I realize that the plot of this novel centers around events purportedly reactionary to those anti-semitic feelings. However, the hatred is so much at the forefront of this book, that it almost made me the reader feel complicit by continuing to read. The foreknowledge that that is the author¿s intent does not make me feel any less uncomfortable.The device of a split personality is interesting, and works with the conspiracy theory nature of the plot. As for the plot, the reader is told up front that the book is created from real historical figures (only the main character and a few very minor ones are not drawn from actual people), and the plot structure is based on factual events with many conspiracy theories interwoven. The time frame in question is the later half of the nineteenth century, the setting is Italy, and the characters include Garibaldi and his Redshirts. Conspiracy theory is a fascination of mine, and I trusted Eco to write it well. This is the point where I must admit that I only made it to page 153 of 467. I went to the library last night and browsed through the Italian history books related to this era, hoping to demystify the plot somewhat by familiarizing myself with the players and events. Then I curled up again with the book, hoping my further education would make the book more accessible. After a couple of hours I put the book down and came to a decision-I must read a complete nonfiction work about the time, place, and people in question in order to fully understand and enjoy the conspiracy theories which Eco weaves through them. Too much is assumed by the author with regards to this reader¿s knowledge of Italian history. I wonder perhaps, given that Eco writes in Italian for Italians, if this knowledge is basic to their curriculum, and it only becomes an issue in translation for foreigners.At the moment I have given the book three stars, for I simply can not give a master of the pen like Eco any less. My plan is to read, in the next few months, [B]The Making of Italy, 1815-1870[/B] by Edgar Holt, a readable, concise work covering the events of Eco¿s book, and then re-read this book by Eco. If you do not mind feeling a little lost in your history/conspiracy theories, or if you know a sufficient amount of the time and place in question, and if you love deep, dark novels, this will likely be your kind of read. Otherwise, I would approach this one with caution and preparation.
abealy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Simonini, a murderous anti-Semitic spy and forger looks back on his life in mid-19th century Europe. Eco has cataloged the prejudices that fueled most of the evil that swept through Europe in the 19th century. Conspiracies, plots, fear and murder dominate this basically true story. Only Simonini is a fictional character and yet meta-historical. Creating documents out of whole cloth that become the Protocols of the Elders of Zion; forging notes that lead to conviction in the Dreyfus affair; campaigning with Garibaldi in Italy; Simonini is behind most of the evil miasma that engulfs Europe.
voz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An uncompromising work. I can't say I enjoyed it, I can say I did recognise a few of the historical characters woven into the storyline. Eco is at his best talking about food. I have little appreciation for self-righteous people, political or religious, so there was not enough here to keep me interested enough to finish it. The second half, I admit to skimming & following the graphic illustrations. I simply did not want to focus on hatred to this extent. Eco could possibly be one of those authors that is better in small doses.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿I hate therefore I am¿The quote above tells you almost everything you need to know about the protagonist of Umberto Eco's latest novel. Set in 19th century Europe, Captain Simonini is an equal opportunity misanthrope, and early in the novel there's a lengthy diatribe against not only the Jews (always very much at the center of Simonini's hatred), but also the Germans, French, Italians, priests, Jesuits, Masons, women, and several other groups in asides. Simonini expounds, "They say that a soul is simply what a person does. But if I hate someone, and I cultivate this grudge, then, by God, that means there is something inside! What does the philosopher say? Odi ergo sum. I hate therefore I am."I think it took me about three attempts to make it past these over-the-top opening salvos of hatred, and a smarter reader would have quit, but Eco has defeated me in the past, and I was determined to read this entire book. Why? Why? The Prague Cemetery is a dense, complex, convoluted tour through 19th century European history. (I strongly recommend that you acquire a Ph.D. in the subject before you sit down to read.) Simonini, it seems, is--Forrest Gump-like--at the center of almost all major events, and pretty much behind every conspiracy of the era. As you may have gathered above, he is not a good guy. At one point he justifies: "Yes, I admit it. In my conduct toward my would-be Carbonari comrades, and to Rebaudengo, I did not act in accordance with the morals you are supposed to preach. But let us be frank: Rebaudengo was a rogue, and when I think of all I have done since then, I seem to have practiced all of my roguery on rogues." Yeah, right.The novel is an autobiography of sorts, as there is some confusion as to Simonini's identity. He seems to be possibly inhabiting the same apartment? body? mind? as a clergyman named Abbé Dalla Piccola. Simonini's memory is full of holes, which Dalla Piccola seems to be able to fill, as he inserts his own recollections into Simonini's written document. Does this sound confusing? You have no idea. "Abbé Dalla Piccola seems to reawaken only when Simonini needs a voice of conscious to accuse him of becoming distracted and to bring him back to reality, otherwise he appears somewhat forgetful. To be frank, if it were not for the fact that these pages refer to events that actually took place, such alternations between amnesiac euphoria and dysphoric recall might seem like a device of the Narrator."On the subject of "events that actually took place," pretty much all of the history (if not the stories behind the events) took place, and in fact, according to Eco, Simonini is the only fictional character in the entire novel. So, those European history Ph.D.s are really going to have a field day. For the rest of us, not so much fun, I have to say.If it's not yet clear, I hated this book. I violently HATED this book! Reading it gave me PTSD. I know, you're wondering why the three stars? Well, as much as I hated it, I can't actually tell you it's bad. Eco is a brilliant, talented writer. I simply can't imagine why he chose to use his talent to tell this particular story. Here are some of the issues I had with the novel:* The required knowledge of history was oppressive. Without that knowledge, the novel was almost impossible to follow and/or appreciate. * The cast of thousands, all with multi-syllabic foreign names, was impossible to keep track of, especially as characters would reappear decades after their last appearance in the book. * Despite the sheer amount of stuff that happens within these pages, the story moves at what, for me, was an excruciatingly slow pace. I'm not actually sure how Eco managed that. * Not only is the central character a truly awful human being, there really is no one to like or care about much in the book. * While at first I was able to shrug off the anti-Semitic content of the novel, after 464 pages of the most vile garbage imaginable, it really, really got to me. As a Jew of Euro
Clara53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"You always want someone to hate in order to feel justified in your own misery", according to one of the characters of this book... Mind-boggling, ironic look at the history of antisemitism. It just shows how easily History allows Itself to be twisted, as the author so aptly proves. An excellent work - of fiction? After all, the protagonist is a fictitious character, but most of the others are not...
jasonpettus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)A few years ago I got the chance to read Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose for the first time, as part of the CCLaP 100 essay series on literary classics; and now, I'm a bit ashamed to admit, I've finally had a chance to read a second book of his, the recent The Prague Cemetery which has been getting an unusual amount of mainstream attention, mostly because of its scandalous subject matter. (It's billed as a history of the writing of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the infamous conspiracy novel of the 1800s which singlehandedly established the idea of a secret cabal of Jews that actually control the world's banking systems, and that was reprinted and distributed for free by the tens of millions in the 20th century by both the Nazi Party in Germany and Henry Ford in the US.) And I say that I'm a bit ashamed because both of these Eco books I've now read have turned out to be just fantastically amazing, and I feel guilty that I haven't delved more into the dozens of titles he's now written over the decades; because in a nutshell, Eco was simply born to be the heavy reader's best friend, a full-time academe and semiotics expert whose deceptively crowd-pleasing historical novels are actually dense and layered jigsaw puzzles of both plot and language itself.I mean, take this newest book, for example, which turns out to not really be about the writing of Protocols at all; instead it's a grand, sweeping look at the entire last half of 19th-century European history, a period when revolutionary wars met emerging science met an unending series of actual semi-mystical secret societies. Because let's not forget, groups like the Freemasons and the Hellfire Club used to be very real before they turned into cartoonish bogeymen for lazy horror writers, and in the 1800s were complexly intertwined with such prevailing beliefs as spiritualism, phrenology and eugenics; and by making our villainous and fictitious main character a sort of evil Forrest Gump, responsible for everything from writing Protocols to kickstarting the Italian independence movement to acting as a double agent for both the French and Prussian secret police, while at the same time making every single other of the dozens of main characters actual real people from history, Eco brilliantly shows us just how muddled and interconnected all these issues actually were at the time, and how the Jews eventually became the clearinghouse scapegoat of Europe simply because they were the one group that overlapped in all these nations' competing conspiracy theories. (In fact, this is one of the most darkly entertaining parts of this book, is Eco's impeccably researched look at all the various conspiracy theories that existed from one group to another in those years, and how anti-Semitism mostly came about in the first place simply because Jews were the one group that everyone could agree to dislike, ingeniously summarized in the very first chapter with a monologue by our narrator that has to stand now as the most all-encompassing, globe-spanning hate rant in the history of mainstream literature.) A headspinning cornucopia of historical facts, perfect dialogue, and impossibly tight plot, you shouldn't let the prurient subject matter of The Prague Cemetery stop you from reading what is absolutely one of the best books published in the last year, and a title that will almost undoubtedly be making CCLaP's best-of lists come this December.Out of 10: 9.7
pgmcc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed learning some of the turbulent history of Italy and France from this intriguing novel. In this story we retrace the life of a man who has been mixed up in spying and deception, including the forging of documents, for his whole life; in fact it was his primary source of income.Eco uses the same tool he used in The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, i.e. the experience of an amnesiac recovering his memory, to unfold the history leading up to the time when the narrator is telling his tale. Captain Simon Simonini is not the most pleasant of men as is attested early in the book when he lambasts, in the most explicit of terms, his distaste of firstly Jews, then the Germans, next the French, the Italians, the Catholic Church (especially Jesuits), and Freemasons. At one point he concludes that Jesuits are merely Masons dressed as women. At several points in the story he expresses his total distaste of all things female. It appears there is no-one in the world he likes.His one saving grace is his delight in good food, and we are treated to descriptions of some delicious meals, and even a couple of recipes.Eco¿s shrewd observations and use of language provide the reader with some great phrases and generalised descriptions, all this adding to the flavour of the book and helping to demonstrate the way Simonini¿s mind works.The Prague Cemetery is about governments wanting to manipulate groups of people, and to steer public opinion in a direction that leaves the politicians, or should I say the people in power, free to build up their own position and wealth. In particular, Eco deals with the deliberate ploy to instil hatred of Jews around the world.The explicitly named central target of this book is the forged document known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This document was produced by the Russians in 1905 to stir up hatred and convince the world that there was a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.Some people have interpreted Eco¿s book as being anti-Semitic, but it is quite the opposite. It emphasised the phoney nature of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and uses this forged document to describe how people can manipulate opinion and use false documents to create their desired political environment. The case used in this book is the stirring up of hatred towards the Jews, but it can be interpreted on a more general level as describing the tendency governments have for creating a common enemy for the people to focus their attention on and act as a distraction to allow the government get on with bettering the position of its members. It is exactly the type of ploy used after the Cold War to vilify the Iranians as a replacement for the Soviets; and the creation of a clear and present danger, such as the abuse of intelligence reports to justify the start of the second Gulf War.I enjoyed this book and intend to dip into it often to pull out phrases and to re-read some of Eco¿s clever prose. Eco¿s books do not always appeal to me but I found this one great entertainment and quite informative.
Hillerm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Once again we are greeted with Eco's ability to weave both fact and fiction into an intriguing tale. One almost wants to read it with a computer at one's side to look up names, places and events. The climactic scene of the Black Mass is a bit disappointing, and reminded me of the similar event in Foucault's Pendulum. This, however, is a good read - full of intellectual adventure.
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