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Una extraordinaria novela que abarca desde los inicios del siglo XIX hasta los primeros años del siglo XX.
 
Marzo, 1897. París. Un hombre de sesenta y siete años escribe sentado a una mesa, en una habitación abarrotada de muebles: he aquí al capitán Simonini, un piamontés afincado en la capital francesa, que desde muy joven se dedicó al noble arte de crear documentos falsos.

Hombre de pocas palabras, misógino y glotón impenitente, el capitán se inspira en los folletines de Dumas y Sue para dar fe de complots inexistentes, fomentar intrigas o difamar a las grandes figuras de la política europea. Sin escrúpulos, Simonini trabaja al servicio del mejor postor: si antes fue el gobierno italiano quien pagó por sus imposturas, luego llegaron los encargos de Francia y Prusia, e incluso Hitler acabaría aprovechándose de sus malvados oficios.

A través de las experiencias únicas de Simonini, la intriga de la Europa del siglo XIX desfila por las páginas de esta cautivadora novela de Umberto Eco, quien, treinta años tras la publicación de El nombre de la rosa, regresa a la ficción y nos muestra que en la literatura como en la vida, nada es lo que parece y nadie es quien dice ser.
Published: Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780307832566
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Probably a lot of commentators on this book will have started off by sensibly stating this warning or something similar: Warning, this book is a take on the history of a document known as 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' The foundations of much modern anti-Semitism. You will be reading the memoires of a fictional character who, by his own free admission throughout the book, is trying to create fear and hysteria against various groups both political and ethnic for his clients needs.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks as the forger attempts to regain his full memory by writing down what he can of his past. Many groups and nationalities will be slandered in his career. The toilet and eating habits of the German peoples will memorably come under attack early on.

I don't personally think it's fair to say that Umberto Eco hasn't done enough to discredit the fictional forger. The few really laboured moments of the plot seem to be almost clumsy attempts to explain the forgers prejudices, he almost seems a little too eager to show the pathetic roots of the character's beliefs. For example his encounter with a Jewish girl and the negative outcome (for him) almost seem like a few paragraphs tacked on for good measure, just in case anyone missed the point the author was trying to make which is essentially that this master forger is really a scared child, spouting his mindless fears as reality for money at the behest of political manipulators and that even he doesn't fully believe. It's true that the forger never has to confront at face value the potential damage that his hateful forgeries can inspire, but I don't want to give too much away as a spoiler.

As a read it is a typical, non Name of the Rose, Eco book, in other words heavy going and laced with endless historical references that almost overwhelm. I think in this case a brief brush up on the Italian wars of unification, maybe an hour on Wikipedia before starting reading, might make a few of the chapters a little easier on the brain.

I read in an interview that the author believes in giving the reader a challenge and he certainly has here, but in my opinion a challenge well worth taking on.
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Yet another incredibly complex historical mystery by Eco. I love 'em, every time. Even if you get confused by the split personalities, multiple perspectives of events, historical injokes, and hilariously bigoted rants about Jews and women and race (not Eco's personal views!).

On an aside, I need to brush up on my history of 19th century Italy.more
Quite gripping. not as good as Rose, or Queen, but better than Foucault and Island. Fails to hold up its premise though, and also toward the end, the diary device doesn't really work out. However, the unbridled bigotry was quite funny, and, with the odd search&replace in certain terms, immensely timely!more
Every nation has its own secret service, perpetrating forgeries, plots, and massacres. Simone Simonini is called upon to help create a political conspiracy by forging a document known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Simone is an adventurer, forger and secret agent working for a powerful secret organisation or is he working for himself? Is he playing both sides against each other or will he end up being a scapegoat?

I love Umberto Eco; every time I read a book by him, I get a mind crush; how can one man have so much knowledge on Catholicism, Freemasons, the Knights Templar and even the Rosicrucians? First book I ever read of his was Foucault’s Pendulum and will always remain my favourite because I did not know what to expect. I was so surprised with his knowledge that when he started building the conspiracy behind this book I even started to feel convinced by it too. I had to remind myself that it was fiction and that they were trying to create a conspiracy theory that others would believe.

Umberto Eco is not the easiest author to read; he jams his books full of facts and in The Prague Cemetery it’s all about Nineteenth-century Europe and conspiracies both real and imagined. You certainly have to have an interest in history of secret societies to enjoy the mystery that Eco creates. Luckily for me, I have that interest and feel like Eco is just encouraging me to learn more about these Secret societies; I still have not worked out how to join the Illuminati yet.

The protagonist Simone Simonini is slimy, manipulative and almost an evil genius. This makes him perfect for the role he plays. While it is hard to keep up with all his thoughts and trying to think that many moves ahead, I just enjoyed where this novel took me.

They call Umberto Eco the Dan Brown for the intellects, and while I do try to be pretentious and act like an intellectual, I have a lot more to learn. I love this title for Eco because he takes the conspiracy thriller elements and certainly adds his knowledge of history to it, making a truly intelligent novel. There is so much to learn and so much to enjoy from a book like this. This is my third Eco novel (Foucault’s Pendulum & The Name of the Rose) and I’m already looking forward to my forth. While I will need a break from his brilliance, I would love to know which Eco book I should read next?more
Hard for me to get interested in this book, which is about manufacturing conspiracy to further political ends. "Baudolino," which served up similar political themes, had a wider scope of imagination, more lively characters, and more compelling incident. "The Name of the Rose" shone with suspense and thrilling action in comparison.This novel feels claustrophobic and restricted by the presence of so many real life figures in it. Instead of enriching the read, as the did in "Baudolino," they seem to suffocate the story.Also, the subject – falsely created Zionist extremism in late 19th. C. Europe is not interesting to me. Late update: as a result of all the above, I dodn't finish the book.Eco's undertaking of the subject of antisemitism buried me in a cemetery of dullness after I died of boredom.more
This book is not an easy read. It is helpful if the reader has a pretty good grasp of European History in the 1800's. The book focuses on the dark side of that time. Two main themes are anti Judaism and anti masonic movement which are libeled as the root of all the societies ills. Add a dose of Satanism and murder and you have the recipe for this book. The book rambles at times and the author uses to many foreign language phrases without explanation for my taste. However, when all was said and done I felt that I had read an interesting and very original piece of literature. But, this book is not for the faint of heart.more
Eco claims to have invented the most despicable and cynical character in fiction, Captain Simonini, and makes him, a forger, the author of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, the infamous fake document that spread anti-Semitism in the early 20th century. His story is told as a memoir, or diary, that he has to start in order to make sense of a dissociative personality experience, triggered by his several murders. Simonini does most of his forging by taking scenes from obscure novels and tracts, all of which existed in the late 19th century, involving Jewish and Fremason plots. Very dense in spots, often pedantic, with a long survey of the history of Italian unification. His first novel, The Name of the Rose, remains his bestmore
Simone Simonini, a lawyer by training, is a professional forger of documents. In 1897 he begins a diary, hoping that it will help him recover from an apparent and mysterious partial memory loss. We learn that he is a solitary man, of Italian birth but living in Paris. A misogynist, he takes his pleasures only at the dinner table. And, as a result of his grandfather's teaching, Simonini is bitterly anti-Semitic. Not long after he begins his diary, Simonini makes an amazing discovery. Someone else--a man identifying himself as the Abbé Dalla Piccola--has been making entries in his diary while Simonini slept. This Dalla Piccola claims to remember more of Simonini's past than the forger himself, but can't explain his own origins. The two men immediately suspect that they are, in fact, the same person. They carry on a dialogue, reconstructing and interpreting their past.Simonini, it seems, has been a major player in many of the great events and scandals of the late 19th century, from Italy's wars of unification to the Franco-Prussian War, to the Dreyfus affair, and more. But his rôle is always behind the scenes, recruited by various espionage agencies. Through Simonini and Dalla Piccola we explore many of the undercurrents of European history, as well as its current fads and sensations, along the way meeting a variety of historical figures from Garibaldi to Freud. In fact, Eco explains in an author's note that the only major character in the novel who is entirely fictional is Simonini himself.With deception and duplicity underlying every motive and cause, Eco appears to be telling us that truth has multiple faces, just as people often have multiple personalities. No explanation is ever final, as there is always another layer of mystery and motivation lying beneath the surface, and likewise there are always hidden links like Simone Simonini that make it impossible to isolate one cause from another.Having someone who is not only an unprincipled criminal but a vicious anti-Semite as the primary narrator is a bold move on Eco's part that may be disturbing to some readers. Of course the author makes sure that we see that everything Simonini accuses the Jews of being--ruthless, devious, manipulative and greedy--is true of no one more than Simonini himself. On the whole, The Prague Cemetery is an entertaining, intriguing and informative novel that, while not one of Eco's best, is still well worth reading.more
I stopped reading it. Totally uninteresting for me. Nothing to keep me motivated. I appreciate the history knowledge of the author and the detailes woven into the book but hey where is the plot? Nothing to keep me reading, no mystery, no extraordinary character, nothing fascinating. I wouldn't have read so far at all, if the name Umberto Eco didn't stand in the front. Totally disappointed.more
I love specific elements of this book, while others are not for me. The plot and theme are wonderful. The main character, having two personalities (who write back and forth to one another in their diary), is as hilarious as he is interesting. However, the intervening details are too much for me, personally. I cannot stay focused and am not sure why they are there. Does the story improve by them, or simply show Eco's incredible historical knowledge? I am undecided. What I do know is Eco continues to be an influential and great writer. He has the power to move and hold his audience; he informs and inspires his readers. His writing is impeccably beautiful. Am I going to hold a stylistic detail against him? Not on your life!more
I am almost sad to say that I didn't like this book, The Prague Cemetery. I wanted to like it. I like Eco well enough, but alas no, I can't say I liked it at all. But I can see why some people did. If you're a student of mid-to-late 19th century European History (especially French & Italian), then much (in fact most) of what transpires in this novel will make perfect sense to you. As I am not, then much (in fact most) of what transpired didn't resonate with me at all. However, as I went in knowing that all characters save the main were real, and therefore all events were factual, it did make for a mildly interesting read. In the 10 days it took me to read this book, I probably learned more about that period/place in history than all my years in school taught me. However, does that make for a particularly good novel? No.Those familiar with Eco will recognize the pattern. Take historical fact and weave a story around it. Myself, I've only read Name of the Rose—and loved it, in fact—where he did some of this, but the story he wove there was much richer and robust. The story he wove through Cemetery felt, to me, forced. Clearly he did an incredible amount of research about this time and place in history. And, admirably, he found a way to create his own protagonist (if we can call so loathsome a creature as Simone Simonini a protagonist of anything) and with Zelig-like grace intertwine his actions throughout the historical fact around him. And if his (Eco's) intentions were to write a plausible creation story for The Protocols of the Elders of Zion with a plausible creator, then well done, sir.However (and I realize this is the second "however" in this review), just because you can do a thing doesn't mean you should do a thing. I found this novel to be far too replete with odious anti-semitism. I'm not Jewish myself, although I have a few Jewish friends, and wouldn't consider myself to be any champion of the faith, but I was highly offended by all of the anti-Jewish rhetoric spouted throughout the book.Sure, I realize that the main character was supposed to be loathsome, we were supposed to realize this and that anything he said was in fact the vile lies of someone not to be trusted, and in fact he was one of the best representations of an unreliable main character that I've ever seen (and I won't give away the details here except to say the brilliance by which we creates this unreliability was only outshone by the massive blemish which is chapter 25, entitled "Sorting Matters Out" but which could just as easily been titled, "Explaining What I Just Did There Because I'm Not Positive You Readers Are Smart Enough To Have Figured It Out Yourselves Even Though I Dropped Enough Clues So A Man Could Walk From Greenland To Iceland To Scotland Without Getting His Feet Wet") but still, enough is enough. I can only read about how horrible the Jews are and the ridiculous rumors their anti-semitic detractors were willing to spread so many times before I start feeling a little sick to my stomach.Perhaps that was my fault. Should I have known more about the subject matter going in? I'd never heard of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion before. Did I miss that chapter in my European History classes? Was I asleep? Do most people know about this period in history? Maybe.Or maybe I was just hoping for another historically accurate, wonderfully written, richly textured thriller like Rose and am sorely disappointed by what I got instead.more
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.more
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco is a historical novel depicting life of an Italian forger and spy, Captain Simonini. He is an interesting character, but also quite nasty and repulsive with his hatred of Jews, women, masons and other nationalities.The author leads us to believe that this type of character was responsible for the content of the controversial Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The book is enjoyable at times, however huge amount of characters (a lot of them well known people like Dr. Freud) and an over-complicated storyline makes it quite hard to follow. All in all I found the story itself to be very interesting but the book was ‘uneven’, boring in some parts and a typical case of ‘more form than content’. In other words I’m glad I took the time to read the book, but also happy to have finished it.more
I am always loath to criticise a book I am reading in translation, in case its the translation rather than the book. But - this didn't work for me. Eco is my favourite author, and usually I find it hard to drag myself away from his books. Not this though - I read it in a very fragmented way, that probably didn't do me or the book any favours. I take the point of creating a fictionalised grand conspiracy, with a vile anti -hero to "blame" for everything, to mimic the way in which the rich brew of 19th century preposterous conspiracy theories was itself created. I admire the skill with which a narrative theme is woven through history from the Risorgimento, through the Paris Commune to the Dreyfus affair and beyond. I admire the way in which Simonnetti, like most real villains, is bland, officious and lacking in any emotion at allBut admiration did not lead to engagement. I found Simonetti's dual personalities confusing and the two diarist device somewhat annoying. For whatever reason it just didn't pull me inmore
Prague Cemetery. Umberto Eco. 2010. This is the story of the man who supposedly compiled the spurious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic hoax that Hitler used in part to justify his “Final Solution.” Set in late 19th century Paris, the book is in the form of a diary in which the writer, a master forger and all around despicable person recalls the events leading up to and the reasons why he wrote the Protocols. Eco says that all of the characters except Simone Simonini, the protagonist, really existed, and I found everyone I looked up on the Internet. During this time Paris was a boiling pot of political corruption and conspiracies involving Freemasons, Catholics, Anti-Catholics, Jews, French spies, Prussian spies, Russian spies, anarchists, the Dreyfus Affair, spiritualism, and Satanism! Oh, even the Illuminati are mentioned! This is a fascinating book, but I am not sure that most people would read it or finish reading it because it is difficult to follow if you are not familiar with these various conspiracies (I would think most reference librarians have come in contact with patrons with questions on these topics.) Simonini lived near the Place Maubert, where the Hotel des Carmes is located, and it was fun to read about the those familiar places as they were in the late 1800s. Jim would have loved this book.more
The premise of The Prague Cemetery is brilliant, so I almost gave it four stars---the main character is the anonymous author of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as well as forging other documents central to various anti-Semitic and other kinds of conspiracies in nineteenth-century Europe, while all the other characters are actual historical figures who actually said (or wrote) the things they say in the story. The device of his apparently having a split personality and the story being told through journal entries the two personas write to each other makes for an unusual exploration of memory, as in some of Eco's other works (such as The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, which I enjoyed quite a bit more than this). The execution, however, turns out to simply not be all that enjoyable to read...long stretches are, let's say rather dry. It might have been better had it been trimmed down a bit more. Still, if the basic idea of the story sounds like something you might find interesting, it might be worth reading at least once.more
Umberto Eco has finally written a book that made me squirm. Not that it is badly written, not that it imparts anything but important truths, but the subject matter is not conducive to elevating one's faith in humanity. It presents a snapshot of a brief period in European history when the confluence of events created conditions that were ripe for every imaginable conspiracy theory to be taken seriously and many seriously flawed intellectual and emotional responses to religious and political institutions took hold. The protagonist was a person who made room only for hatred in his heart for everyone, but especially for Jews, Jesuits, Masons and women. His only positive enthusiasm was for food, and one of the signs that we know Eco is having fun while delivering an important lesson is that every opportunity is taken to embellish the narrative with recipes of whatever the protagonist happens to be dining on at the moment.Eco has provided a case study of how conspiracies fed by bigotry, ignorance and fuzzy thinking can run amok when no one of importance values the truth. In his collection of essays entitled Serendipities, one of the essays, "The Force of Falsity," demonstrates how easy it is for little lies to become big lies that actually affect the lives of real people. Readers of The Prague Cemetery will find that essay to be instructive. One of Eco's messages is that "the wisdom of the community is based on constant awareness of the fallibility of our learning." In our current democratic society, we also carry the burden of being constantly aware of the fallibility of learning of our leaders. The level of petty and everyday corruption exposed in the pages of The Prague Cemetery really gives one pause. We could think of it as a canary in the coal mine.more
(NOTE: I read this book in the Kindle version.)This is the story of Simonini, who is, according to Eco, the only fictional character in the book. Everything else, apparently, is drawn directly from European history - specifically from the mid- to late- 19th century. Simonini is a forger who becomes the linchpin in a series of events in European history: the unification of Italy, the rise of anti-semitism, Freud, the Dreyfus Affair, the death of Emile Zola, the rise of Prussian militarism, the growth of Russian communism, as well as the continued conspiracies of the Freemasons, Knights Templar, Rosicrucians - not to mention the ultimate plot of Jewry to become masters of the world. The events, documents and people mentioned by Eco are founded in history - Simonini is simply the means by which all of these are tied together.The book is written tongue-in-cheek, with a delicious sense of black humor. It is quite verbose, as Eco is inclined to be. The book tends to be a bit confusing because of the manner in which it is presented: Simonini tells the story in the form of a diary which he keeps because he admits there are blank spaces in his memory, apparently due to the fact that he, in fact, suffers from a split personality (his other persona being a Catholic priest - Dalla Piccola who "fills in the blanks" in Simonini's diary. The book can be quite confusing, as not all the material is presented in chronological order; Eco provides the reader with a detailed timeline at the end of the book which is intended to synchronize the "diary dates" with the dates of the events described in the diary (very decent of him, no doubt).Eco's writing is an intellectual feast. The conceptual gyrations and logical contortions he pulls the reader through are actually quite entertaining, even if, at times, intimidating. He continues to be one of my favorite (and always my most challenging) authors.more
This is a necessary book. Everyone ought to know what's in it, and that's the story of the construction and dissemination of the most noxious piece of plagiarism in history, The protocols of the elders of Zion.Most of the characters in the book really existed, and their actions and utterances are such as have been recorded. Eco's great labour consisted in creating one main character to weave all the threads in a linear story, a composite of probable actors who carried the plot in history, and in doing so he took pleasure in attaching this character, Simone Simonini, to some of the greatest historical events of the period, beginning with Italian Risorgimento, through Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune, and ending with the Dreyfus affair.Simone is a vessel of all corruptions: a forger, spy and murderer, a loveless, friendless glutton, passionate only about food and antisemitism.Eco imagines him as the grandson of a person who actually existed, Gian-Battista Simonini, and whose maniacal antisemitism culminated in a fan letter he wrote, one Jew-hater to another, to the Jesuit Augustin Barruel, in which he reported hearing about a Jewish conspiracy to destroy Christianity. The historical Simonini lied and exaggerated, and it's not clear (nor can ever be) what exactly was at root of his obsession. Eco imagines a meeting in the Jewish ghetto (where Simonini hid for a while to save his life) with a crazed Jewish refugee from Syria, whose ravings Simonini takes absolutely seriously, and embellishes and amplifies for Barruel's sake.This is the first important thing: how little it takes for the obsession to take root, how ready and eager Simonini and innumerable people after him were to hate, against evidence, even against their own reason. The historical Simonini dropped out of sight after the letter to Barruel, but Eco makes of his early influence the fictional grandson's main motivation. (Also, the boy is just bad--vile.) Barruel himself kept the letter and used it years later as "evidence" of the Jewish conspiracy.The snowball starts rolling. The narrative gradually amplifies the strands of the story, growing in size and complexity, involving a huge boiling anthill of political events. Eco navigates this roiling sea with elegant ease. There's no question that much is omitted, and don't expect deep characterisation, this is not a psychological novel (none of Eco's are). Nor is there any over-pretty painting of scenes. Too much is happening, and the numerous characters and events were so colourful in themselves, it would be superfluous. No fictionalist could come up with someone stranger than Abbe Boullan the Satanist, or Leo Taxil the anti-freemason crusader; more romantic than Ippolito Nievo (or Garibaldi himself); with something more terrible than the story of the Paris Commune; or more disgusting than the plot to scapegoat Dreyfus and forever destroy the idea that Jews can be good Frenchmen.The book feels like a talk with a intensely engaging, erudite stranger on a train, a long ride, but unflagging in urgent interest. Eco doesn't have a great talent for explaining people, but sometimes, when we balk before the hopeless complexity of history, it feels enough to understand simply only what happened.more
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. 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: 9.7more
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.more
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.more
This is a well constructed fiction (although pretty forced at times) that weaves an imaginary forger behind some of the most momentous events of the 19th century, from the unification of Italy to the Commune in France, to the affaire Dreyfus. Eco also makes Simonini the hand behind the Protocols of the Elders of Sion in a very convoluted turn of events. As a history and a convoluted plot tying a mix of real historical characters, it's fine. However, in reproducing the documents and sentiments that ended up becoming the Protocols, Eco serves A LOT of the worst of antisemitic language and imagery (down to vulgar reproductions of antisemitic caricatures). Eco has said that intelligent readers cannot take this postmodern novel any more seriously than a Dan Novel story about masons but I have my doubts. I am just not convinced that all those readers that made this novel a great best seller in Mexico and South America are reading between the very loaded lines. To me, it was difficult to read without feeling insulted almost every page.As an aside, I bought this book last year, in Spanish because I wanted to read Eco's latest quickly, before an English translation was available. As it turns out, I put off reading it for almost a year and now I finally finished it, I can't say I'm happy I did.more
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.more
Well intended I guess, execution far under standard. Even worse when thinking of who is the author. I find it is a stunt in itself to manage to let the main character come across as absolutely one-dimentional (absolutely corrupt, with no great cause to explain the rottenness, or any forgiving traits to make us sure that this is a human being). How that it is possible when the inspiration of Simonini (the main character) is multiple persons and Simonini himself actually has a split (evil-evil??) personality? (The inspiration behind Simonini consists of many different historical persons who originally were behind the different acts which in the book is performed by him, acts that in themselves are all retelling of historical facts, but in this book are allocated to one person). If the book is meant as a dissection of the personality behind pure evil, it does not hold water. Neither is split personality as an answer good enough, nor is the potrayal of the disease. The one star is for displaying the full grimness of antisemitism. Persecution is hideous, persecution based on race or religion is especially hideous because of the dehumanizing scale. It is a theme that needs constant life. The credit I give is for the try which in itself simply was not good enough. Most participants behind evil on a scale like this, unlike Simonini, is not aware of their biases, nor of the consequences of their acts or non-acts. Holocost does not happen because of this world´s Simoninis (very very very very few of those) but because of the (very very very very very many) ordinary, multi-facetted, not-to-reflected, non-split-persons like you and me. We simply cannot allow evil to be explained by using a one-dimentional scapegoat like Simonini or by conspiratory theory, and by that let the common man of the hook, ourselves included. Great disappointment (in fact so huge that we gave the book to our local municipal library .... I know, not a good reason to give away a book, but they were to spend money on some copies anyway....)more
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.more
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.more
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Reviews


Probably a lot of commentators on this book will have started off by sensibly stating this warning or something similar: Warning, this book is a take on the history of a document known as 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' The foundations of much modern anti-Semitism. You will be reading the memoires of a fictional character who, by his own free admission throughout the book, is trying to create fear and hysteria against various groups both political and ethnic for his clients needs.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks as the forger attempts to regain his full memory by writing down what he can of his past. Many groups and nationalities will be slandered in his career. The toilet and eating habits of the German peoples will memorably come under attack early on.

I don't personally think it's fair to say that Umberto Eco hasn't done enough to discredit the fictional forger. The few really laboured moments of the plot seem to be almost clumsy attempts to explain the forgers prejudices, he almost seems a little too eager to show the pathetic roots of the character's beliefs. For example his encounter with a Jewish girl and the negative outcome (for him) almost seem like a few paragraphs tacked on for good measure, just in case anyone missed the point the author was trying to make which is essentially that this master forger is really a scared child, spouting his mindless fears as reality for money at the behest of political manipulators and that even he doesn't fully believe. It's true that the forger never has to confront at face value the potential damage that his hateful forgeries can inspire, but I don't want to give too much away as a spoiler.

As a read it is a typical, non Name of the Rose, Eco book, in other words heavy going and laced with endless historical references that almost overwhelm. I think in this case a brief brush up on the Italian wars of unification, maybe an hour on Wikipedia before starting reading, might make a few of the chapters a little easier on the brain.

I read in an interview that the author believes in giving the reader a challenge and he certainly has here, but in my opinion a challenge well worth taking on.
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Yet another incredibly complex historical mystery by Eco. I love 'em, every time. Even if you get confused by the split personalities, multiple perspectives of events, historical injokes, and hilariously bigoted rants about Jews and women and race (not Eco's personal views!).

On an aside, I need to brush up on my history of 19th century Italy.more
Quite gripping. not as good as Rose, or Queen, but better than Foucault and Island. Fails to hold up its premise though, and also toward the end, the diary device doesn't really work out. However, the unbridled bigotry was quite funny, and, with the odd search&replace in certain terms, immensely timely!more
Every nation has its own secret service, perpetrating forgeries, plots, and massacres. Simone Simonini is called upon to help create a political conspiracy by forging a document known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Simone is an adventurer, forger and secret agent working for a powerful secret organisation or is he working for himself? Is he playing both sides against each other or will he end up being a scapegoat?

I love Umberto Eco; every time I read a book by him, I get a mind crush; how can one man have so much knowledge on Catholicism, Freemasons, the Knights Templar and even the Rosicrucians? First book I ever read of his was Foucault’s Pendulum and will always remain my favourite because I did not know what to expect. I was so surprised with his knowledge that when he started building the conspiracy behind this book I even started to feel convinced by it too. I had to remind myself that it was fiction and that they were trying to create a conspiracy theory that others would believe.

Umberto Eco is not the easiest author to read; he jams his books full of facts and in The Prague Cemetery it’s all about Nineteenth-century Europe and conspiracies both real and imagined. You certainly have to have an interest in history of secret societies to enjoy the mystery that Eco creates. Luckily for me, I have that interest and feel like Eco is just encouraging me to learn more about these Secret societies; I still have not worked out how to join the Illuminati yet.

The protagonist Simone Simonini is slimy, manipulative and almost an evil genius. This makes him perfect for the role he plays. While it is hard to keep up with all his thoughts and trying to think that many moves ahead, I just enjoyed where this novel took me.

They call Umberto Eco the Dan Brown for the intellects, and while I do try to be pretentious and act like an intellectual, I have a lot more to learn. I love this title for Eco because he takes the conspiracy thriller elements and certainly adds his knowledge of history to it, making a truly intelligent novel. There is so much to learn and so much to enjoy from a book like this. This is my third Eco novel (Foucault’s Pendulum & The Name of the Rose) and I’m already looking forward to my forth. While I will need a break from his brilliance, I would love to know which Eco book I should read next?more
Hard for me to get interested in this book, which is about manufacturing conspiracy to further political ends. "Baudolino," which served up similar political themes, had a wider scope of imagination, more lively characters, and more compelling incident. "The Name of the Rose" shone with suspense and thrilling action in comparison.This novel feels claustrophobic and restricted by the presence of so many real life figures in it. Instead of enriching the read, as the did in "Baudolino," they seem to suffocate the story.Also, the subject – falsely created Zionist extremism in late 19th. C. Europe is not interesting to me. Late update: as a result of all the above, I dodn't finish the book.Eco's undertaking of the subject of antisemitism buried me in a cemetery of dullness after I died of boredom.more
This book is not an easy read. It is helpful if the reader has a pretty good grasp of European History in the 1800's. The book focuses on the dark side of that time. Two main themes are anti Judaism and anti masonic movement which are libeled as the root of all the societies ills. Add a dose of Satanism and murder and you have the recipe for this book. The book rambles at times and the author uses to many foreign language phrases without explanation for my taste. However, when all was said and done I felt that I had read an interesting and very original piece of literature. But, this book is not for the faint of heart.more
Eco claims to have invented the most despicable and cynical character in fiction, Captain Simonini, and makes him, a forger, the author of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, the infamous fake document that spread anti-Semitism in the early 20th century. His story is told as a memoir, or diary, that he has to start in order to make sense of a dissociative personality experience, triggered by his several murders. Simonini does most of his forging by taking scenes from obscure novels and tracts, all of which existed in the late 19th century, involving Jewish and Fremason plots. Very dense in spots, often pedantic, with a long survey of the history of Italian unification. His first novel, The Name of the Rose, remains his bestmore
Simone Simonini, a lawyer by training, is a professional forger of documents. In 1897 he begins a diary, hoping that it will help him recover from an apparent and mysterious partial memory loss. We learn that he is a solitary man, of Italian birth but living in Paris. A misogynist, he takes his pleasures only at the dinner table. And, as a result of his grandfather's teaching, Simonini is bitterly anti-Semitic. Not long after he begins his diary, Simonini makes an amazing discovery. Someone else--a man identifying himself as the Abbé Dalla Piccola--has been making entries in his diary while Simonini slept. This Dalla Piccola claims to remember more of Simonini's past than the forger himself, but can't explain his own origins. The two men immediately suspect that they are, in fact, the same person. They carry on a dialogue, reconstructing and interpreting their past.Simonini, it seems, has been a major player in many of the great events and scandals of the late 19th century, from Italy's wars of unification to the Franco-Prussian War, to the Dreyfus affair, and more. But his rôle is always behind the scenes, recruited by various espionage agencies. Through Simonini and Dalla Piccola we explore many of the undercurrents of European history, as well as its current fads and sensations, along the way meeting a variety of historical figures from Garibaldi to Freud. In fact, Eco explains in an author's note that the only major character in the novel who is entirely fictional is Simonini himself.With deception and duplicity underlying every motive and cause, Eco appears to be telling us that truth has multiple faces, just as people often have multiple personalities. No explanation is ever final, as there is always another layer of mystery and motivation lying beneath the surface, and likewise there are always hidden links like Simone Simonini that make it impossible to isolate one cause from another.Having someone who is not only an unprincipled criminal but a vicious anti-Semite as the primary narrator is a bold move on Eco's part that may be disturbing to some readers. Of course the author makes sure that we see that everything Simonini accuses the Jews of being--ruthless, devious, manipulative and greedy--is true of no one more than Simonini himself. On the whole, The Prague Cemetery is an entertaining, intriguing and informative novel that, while not one of Eco's best, is still well worth reading.more
I stopped reading it. Totally uninteresting for me. Nothing to keep me motivated. I appreciate the history knowledge of the author and the detailes woven into the book but hey where is the plot? Nothing to keep me reading, no mystery, no extraordinary character, nothing fascinating. I wouldn't have read so far at all, if the name Umberto Eco didn't stand in the front. Totally disappointed.more
I love specific elements of this book, while others are not for me. The plot and theme are wonderful. The main character, having two personalities (who write back and forth to one another in their diary), is as hilarious as he is interesting. However, the intervening details are too much for me, personally. I cannot stay focused and am not sure why they are there. Does the story improve by them, or simply show Eco's incredible historical knowledge? I am undecided. What I do know is Eco continues to be an influential and great writer. He has the power to move and hold his audience; he informs and inspires his readers. His writing is impeccably beautiful. Am I going to hold a stylistic detail against him? Not on your life!more
I am almost sad to say that I didn't like this book, The Prague Cemetery. I wanted to like it. I like Eco well enough, but alas no, I can't say I liked it at all. But I can see why some people did. If you're a student of mid-to-late 19th century European History (especially French & Italian), then much (in fact most) of what transpires in this novel will make perfect sense to you. As I am not, then much (in fact most) of what transpired didn't resonate with me at all. However, as I went in knowing that all characters save the main were real, and therefore all events were factual, it did make for a mildly interesting read. In the 10 days it took me to read this book, I probably learned more about that period/place in history than all my years in school taught me. However, does that make for a particularly good novel? No.Those familiar with Eco will recognize the pattern. Take historical fact and weave a story around it. Myself, I've only read Name of the Rose—and loved it, in fact—where he did some of this, but the story he wove there was much richer and robust. The story he wove through Cemetery felt, to me, forced. Clearly he did an incredible amount of research about this time and place in history. And, admirably, he found a way to create his own protagonist (if we can call so loathsome a creature as Simone Simonini a protagonist of anything) and with Zelig-like grace intertwine his actions throughout the historical fact around him. And if his (Eco's) intentions were to write a plausible creation story for The Protocols of the Elders of Zion with a plausible creator, then well done, sir.However (and I realize this is the second "however" in this review), just because you can do a thing doesn't mean you should do a thing. I found this novel to be far too replete with odious anti-semitism. I'm not Jewish myself, although I have a few Jewish friends, and wouldn't consider myself to be any champion of the faith, but I was highly offended by all of the anti-Jewish rhetoric spouted throughout the book.Sure, I realize that the main character was supposed to be loathsome, we were supposed to realize this and that anything he said was in fact the vile lies of someone not to be trusted, and in fact he was one of the best representations of an unreliable main character that I've ever seen (and I won't give away the details here except to say the brilliance by which we creates this unreliability was only outshone by the massive blemish which is chapter 25, entitled "Sorting Matters Out" but which could just as easily been titled, "Explaining What I Just Did There Because I'm Not Positive You Readers Are Smart Enough To Have Figured It Out Yourselves Even Though I Dropped Enough Clues So A Man Could Walk From Greenland To Iceland To Scotland Without Getting His Feet Wet") but still, enough is enough. I can only read about how horrible the Jews are and the ridiculous rumors their anti-semitic detractors were willing to spread so many times before I start feeling a little sick to my stomach.Perhaps that was my fault. Should I have known more about the subject matter going in? I'd never heard of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion before. Did I miss that chapter in my European History classes? Was I asleep? Do most people know about this period in history? Maybe.Or maybe I was just hoping for another historically accurate, wonderfully written, richly textured thriller like Rose and am sorely disappointed by what I got instead.more
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.more
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco is a historical novel depicting life of an Italian forger and spy, Captain Simonini. He is an interesting character, but also quite nasty and repulsive with his hatred of Jews, women, masons and other nationalities.The author leads us to believe that this type of character was responsible for the content of the controversial Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The book is enjoyable at times, however huge amount of characters (a lot of them well known people like Dr. Freud) and an over-complicated storyline makes it quite hard to follow. All in all I found the story itself to be very interesting but the book was ‘uneven’, boring in some parts and a typical case of ‘more form than content’. In other words I’m glad I took the time to read the book, but also happy to have finished it.more
I am always loath to criticise a book I am reading in translation, in case its the translation rather than the book. But - this didn't work for me. Eco is my favourite author, and usually I find it hard to drag myself away from his books. Not this though - I read it in a very fragmented way, that probably didn't do me or the book any favours. I take the point of creating a fictionalised grand conspiracy, with a vile anti -hero to "blame" for everything, to mimic the way in which the rich brew of 19th century preposterous conspiracy theories was itself created. I admire the skill with which a narrative theme is woven through history from the Risorgimento, through the Paris Commune to the Dreyfus affair and beyond. I admire the way in which Simonnetti, like most real villains, is bland, officious and lacking in any emotion at allBut admiration did not lead to engagement. I found Simonetti's dual personalities confusing and the two diarist device somewhat annoying. For whatever reason it just didn't pull me inmore
Prague Cemetery. Umberto Eco. 2010. This is the story of the man who supposedly compiled the spurious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic hoax that Hitler used in part to justify his “Final Solution.” Set in late 19th century Paris, the book is in the form of a diary in which the writer, a master forger and all around despicable person recalls the events leading up to and the reasons why he wrote the Protocols. Eco says that all of the characters except Simone Simonini, the protagonist, really existed, and I found everyone I looked up on the Internet. During this time Paris was a boiling pot of political corruption and conspiracies involving Freemasons, Catholics, Anti-Catholics, Jews, French spies, Prussian spies, Russian spies, anarchists, the Dreyfus Affair, spiritualism, and Satanism! Oh, even the Illuminati are mentioned! This is a fascinating book, but I am not sure that most people would read it or finish reading it because it is difficult to follow if you are not familiar with these various conspiracies (I would think most reference librarians have come in contact with patrons with questions on these topics.) Simonini lived near the Place Maubert, where the Hotel des Carmes is located, and it was fun to read about the those familiar places as they were in the late 1800s. Jim would have loved this book.more
The premise of The Prague Cemetery is brilliant, so I almost gave it four stars---the main character is the anonymous author of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as well as forging other documents central to various anti-Semitic and other kinds of conspiracies in nineteenth-century Europe, while all the other characters are actual historical figures who actually said (or wrote) the things they say in the story. The device of his apparently having a split personality and the story being told through journal entries the two personas write to each other makes for an unusual exploration of memory, as in some of Eco's other works (such as The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, which I enjoyed quite a bit more than this). The execution, however, turns out to simply not be all that enjoyable to read...long stretches are, let's say rather dry. It might have been better had it been trimmed down a bit more. Still, if the basic idea of the story sounds like something you might find interesting, it might be worth reading at least once.more
Umberto Eco has finally written a book that made me squirm. Not that it is badly written, not that it imparts anything but important truths, but the subject matter is not conducive to elevating one's faith in humanity. It presents a snapshot of a brief period in European history when the confluence of events created conditions that were ripe for every imaginable conspiracy theory to be taken seriously and many seriously flawed intellectual and emotional responses to religious and political institutions took hold. The protagonist was a person who made room only for hatred in his heart for everyone, but especially for Jews, Jesuits, Masons and women. His only positive enthusiasm was for food, and one of the signs that we know Eco is having fun while delivering an important lesson is that every opportunity is taken to embellish the narrative with recipes of whatever the protagonist happens to be dining on at the moment.Eco has provided a case study of how conspiracies fed by bigotry, ignorance and fuzzy thinking can run amok when no one of importance values the truth. In his collection of essays entitled Serendipities, one of the essays, "The Force of Falsity," demonstrates how easy it is for little lies to become big lies that actually affect the lives of real people. Readers of The Prague Cemetery will find that essay to be instructive. One of Eco's messages is that "the wisdom of the community is based on constant awareness of the fallibility of our learning." In our current democratic society, we also carry the burden of being constantly aware of the fallibility of learning of our leaders. The level of petty and everyday corruption exposed in the pages of The Prague Cemetery really gives one pause. We could think of it as a canary in the coal mine.more
(NOTE: I read this book in the Kindle version.)This is the story of Simonini, who is, according to Eco, the only fictional character in the book. Everything else, apparently, is drawn directly from European history - specifically from the mid- to late- 19th century. Simonini is a forger who becomes the linchpin in a series of events in European history: the unification of Italy, the rise of anti-semitism, Freud, the Dreyfus Affair, the death of Emile Zola, the rise of Prussian militarism, the growth of Russian communism, as well as the continued conspiracies of the Freemasons, Knights Templar, Rosicrucians - not to mention the ultimate plot of Jewry to become masters of the world. The events, documents and people mentioned by Eco are founded in history - Simonini is simply the means by which all of these are tied together.The book is written tongue-in-cheek, with a delicious sense of black humor. It is quite verbose, as Eco is inclined to be. The book tends to be a bit confusing because of the manner in which it is presented: Simonini tells the story in the form of a diary which he keeps because he admits there are blank spaces in his memory, apparently due to the fact that he, in fact, suffers from a split personality (his other persona being a Catholic priest - Dalla Piccola who "fills in the blanks" in Simonini's diary. The book can be quite confusing, as not all the material is presented in chronological order; Eco provides the reader with a detailed timeline at the end of the book which is intended to synchronize the "diary dates" with the dates of the events described in the diary (very decent of him, no doubt).Eco's writing is an intellectual feast. The conceptual gyrations and logical contortions he pulls the reader through are actually quite entertaining, even if, at times, intimidating. He continues to be one of my favorite (and always my most challenging) authors.more
This is a necessary book. Everyone ought to know what's in it, and that's the story of the construction and dissemination of the most noxious piece of plagiarism in history, The protocols of the elders of Zion.Most of the characters in the book really existed, and their actions and utterances are such as have been recorded. Eco's great labour consisted in creating one main character to weave all the threads in a linear story, a composite of probable actors who carried the plot in history, and in doing so he took pleasure in attaching this character, Simone Simonini, to some of the greatest historical events of the period, beginning with Italian Risorgimento, through Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune, and ending with the Dreyfus affair.Simone is a vessel of all corruptions: a forger, spy and murderer, a loveless, friendless glutton, passionate only about food and antisemitism.Eco imagines him as the grandson of a person who actually existed, Gian-Battista Simonini, and whose maniacal antisemitism culminated in a fan letter he wrote, one Jew-hater to another, to the Jesuit Augustin Barruel, in which he reported hearing about a Jewish conspiracy to destroy Christianity. The historical Simonini lied and exaggerated, and it's not clear (nor can ever be) what exactly was at root of his obsession. Eco imagines a meeting in the Jewish ghetto (where Simonini hid for a while to save his life) with a crazed Jewish refugee from Syria, whose ravings Simonini takes absolutely seriously, and embellishes and amplifies for Barruel's sake.This is the first important thing: how little it takes for the obsession to take root, how ready and eager Simonini and innumerable people after him were to hate, against evidence, even against their own reason. The historical Simonini dropped out of sight after the letter to Barruel, but Eco makes of his early influence the fictional grandson's main motivation. (Also, the boy is just bad--vile.) Barruel himself kept the letter and used it years later as "evidence" of the Jewish conspiracy.The snowball starts rolling. The narrative gradually amplifies the strands of the story, growing in size and complexity, involving a huge boiling anthill of political events. Eco navigates this roiling sea with elegant ease. There's no question that much is omitted, and don't expect deep characterisation, this is not a psychological novel (none of Eco's are). Nor is there any over-pretty painting of scenes. Too much is happening, and the numerous characters and events were so colourful in themselves, it would be superfluous. No fictionalist could come up with someone stranger than Abbe Boullan the Satanist, or Leo Taxil the anti-freemason crusader; more romantic than Ippolito Nievo (or Garibaldi himself); with something more terrible than the story of the Paris Commune; or more disgusting than the plot to scapegoat Dreyfus and forever destroy the idea that Jews can be good Frenchmen.The book feels like a talk with a intensely engaging, erudite stranger on a train, a long ride, but unflagging in urgent interest. Eco doesn't have a great talent for explaining people, but sometimes, when we balk before the hopeless complexity of history, it feels enough to understand simply only what happened.more
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. 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: 9.7more
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.more
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.more
This is a well constructed fiction (although pretty forced at times) that weaves an imaginary forger behind some of the most momentous events of the 19th century, from the unification of Italy to the Commune in France, to the affaire Dreyfus. Eco also makes Simonini the hand behind the Protocols of the Elders of Sion in a very convoluted turn of events. As a history and a convoluted plot tying a mix of real historical characters, it's fine. However, in reproducing the documents and sentiments that ended up becoming the Protocols, Eco serves A LOT of the worst of antisemitic language and imagery (down to vulgar reproductions of antisemitic caricatures). Eco has said that intelligent readers cannot take this postmodern novel any more seriously than a Dan Novel story about masons but I have my doubts. I am just not convinced that all those readers that made this novel a great best seller in Mexico and South America are reading between the very loaded lines. To me, it was difficult to read without feeling insulted almost every page.As an aside, I bought this book last year, in Spanish because I wanted to read Eco's latest quickly, before an English translation was available. As it turns out, I put off reading it for almost a year and now I finally finished it, I can't say I'm happy I did.more
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.more
Well intended I guess, execution far under standard. Even worse when thinking of who is the author. I find it is a stunt in itself to manage to let the main character come across as absolutely one-dimentional (absolutely corrupt, with no great cause to explain the rottenness, or any forgiving traits to make us sure that this is a human being). How that it is possible when the inspiration of Simonini (the main character) is multiple persons and Simonini himself actually has a split (evil-evil??) personality? (The inspiration behind Simonini consists of many different historical persons who originally were behind the different acts which in the book is performed by him, acts that in themselves are all retelling of historical facts, but in this book are allocated to one person). If the book is meant as a dissection of the personality behind pure evil, it does not hold water. Neither is split personality as an answer good enough, nor is the potrayal of the disease. The one star is for displaying the full grimness of antisemitism. Persecution is hideous, persecution based on race or religion is especially hideous because of the dehumanizing scale. It is a theme that needs constant life. The credit I give is for the try which in itself simply was not good enough. Most participants behind evil on a scale like this, unlike Simonini, is not aware of their biases, nor of the consequences of their acts or non-acts. Holocost does not happen because of this world´s Simoninis (very very very very few of those) but because of the (very very very very very many) ordinary, multi-facetted, not-to-reflected, non-split-persons like you and me. We simply cannot allow evil to be explained by using a one-dimentional scapegoat like Simonini or by conspiratory theory, and by that let the common man of the hook, ourselves included. Great disappointment (in fact so huge that we gave the book to our local municipal library .... I know, not a good reason to give away a book, but they were to spend money on some copies anyway....)more
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.more
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.more
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