May 19, 2012

The Prague Cemetery

Original Title: Il Cimitero di Praga
English Title: The Prague Cemetery
Turkish Title: Prag Mezarlığı
Author: Umberto Eco
Pages: 496
My Rating: 4/5

I heard about the book thanks to one of the groups I participated in Goodreads. I liked the name and the cover. Then, I realized I had never read a book by Eco so I bought the book.


Eco’s latest novel starts with the introduction of the main character Captain Simone Simonini, a man suffering from memory loss. To make up for that Simonini starts a diary. Abbe Dalla Piccola, another guy living in the adjoining apartment, has also lost his memory. However, he seems to know the missing segments of Simonini’s past so he adds his notes to those of Simonini. Are they the same person? Or did Simonini just confessed this stuff to the abbot? Well, you need to read the novel to get the answers.

Many chapters of the book are segments from Simonini’s diary. The alternate chapters, which are written in a different font, are those of Dalla Piccola. Through these chapters, we learn that Simonini is employed by secret police departments of different countries to create false documents that will hurt whoever is the enemy in that particular moment.  The main issue though is the fact that Simonini being presented as the originator of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the early 20th century fake text mentioning about a Jewish conspiracy aimed at world domination. (Note that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is also frequently quoted by Adolf Hitler).

The Prague Cemetery brilliantly examines the 19th century conspiracies ranging from the Dreyfuss Affair to the composition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, from the unification of Italy to the Franco-Prussian War.  Here I have to state that this book is definitely not an easy and comfortable read as it is full of Simonini’s speeches full of hate against many groups. However, it was nice to come across some well-known people of the past such as Alexander Dumas, Sigmund Freud, the Satanist cultist Abbot Boullan and more. From time to time, I felt the urgent need to go online to get more information about the characters or the certain events in the book. It is not easy to keep up with Eco’s speed and depth of knowledge.

Throughout the book, we come across too many rather less-known historical characters going backward and forward so often that at times the book gets a bit confusing (I experienced it during my reads when I was commuting).  There is a table at the end of the book to help the reader to tie together the diaries, the recollections and actual events. I have to admit that it wasn’t helping for me. I got even more confused. At the end I felt like Eco wanted to write about so many different themes (il Risorgimento, the Paris Commune, the anti-Jewish conspiracies, etc.) I believe this is why the book has been abandoned by many readers in Goodreads.

I was able to connect with the book as the first few chapters easily caught my attention (especially those parts taking place in Italy). Then, I was somehow dragged into the complexity of the story and managed to make my way through it. Many claim that it is not easy to read Eco. Well, I’m happy to say it loud that it was my first book by him and I liked it. 

In a speech Eco gave to Guardian, he says he wants to appeal to those readers who have the bad taste “to take Dan Brown seriously”. So, does this book appeal to you? Well, you decide :)

It is my first book by Umberto Eco so I can include it New Author Challenge
I read it in spring so I can count it for Spring Reading Thing 2012

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