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397 of 422 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars brilliant writing, odd story
Umberto Eco is anything but a pedant in his writing. The world was in turmoil between 1885 and 1905. Eco has thrown the whole mess of Europe in the late 19th century into one story, threaded it all through the hateful and vengeful eye of a delerius psychotic, and made it all make sense. The book is chock full of everything from Sigmund Freud (spelled Froid [umlaut]) to...
Published on September 23, 2011 by Nancy E. Turner

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114 of 125 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writer-not his best work
[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...
Published on November 9, 2011 by lit-in-the-last-frontier


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397 of 422 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars brilliant writing, odd story, September 23, 2011
This review is from: The Prague Cemetery (Hardcover)
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Umberto Eco is anything but a pedant in his writing. The world was in turmoil between 1885 and 1905. Eco has thrown the whole mess of Europe in the late 19th century into one story, threaded it all through the hateful and vengeful eye of a delerius psychotic, and made it all make sense. The book is chock full of everything from Sigmund Freud (spelled Froid [umlaut]) to Napoleon, and for my money, I believe much of the backstory is true to history as I have learned it.
The style is gripping, entertaining, and rife with hidden meaning between the lines so that the reader seems to know what the narrator/main character does not. Simonini reveals from about the second page that he is the multiple-personality, the psychotic, the borderline person whom he seeks. We know it. We even begin to realize that others who know Simonini also know him as either a fraud or a lunatic. One of the masterful ways in which this is done is the character describing everyone he hates. Germans. Jews. French. Russians. The one thing that makes this so different from all his other novels is the level of sexual perversion graphically described, the twisting of motives of everyone from Jewish Rabbis to Templar Masons, of course through the eyes of a madman, and the level of depravity it makes the reader FEEL. Now, any author desires to elicit emotion from a reader, even if it is anger. Eco managed to step on all my buttons. This book is thick with hate speech, promiscuity, and murder. The writing is flawlessly brilliant, but the subject matter is not gentled by even the smallest point. One does wonder, since the book is translated from Italian, whether the translator is the brilliant here, but likely, they are equals. I read this for the Vine program, and if not for needing to supply a review, probably would not have finished it. It is so completely grim, so dark, foreboding, and evil, that I felt exhausted by it.
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241 of 264 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, Erudite, Annoying and Brilliant and Over My Head., October 6, 2011
By 
Patrick McCormack (New Brighton, MN USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Prague Cemetery (Hardcover)
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Everything Eco writes starts with an off-putting tour through a forest of symbols and a closet jammed with old conspiracies, until the average reader throws the damn thing at the wall.

This is no different, although the racist rambler at the center of the opening scenes of this novel is appalling, like Don Rickles on medieval crack.

This novel is a thriller in clown pants, a consipracy of dirty priests and nasty freemasons and horrible men and the smelly calvalcade of southern European bigotries. It is great fun, and surprisingly a rolicking good tail, but why, oh why has Mr. Eco never learnt to lead the reader into the labrynth of his genius?

So, if you are in the mood for a good book that starts with a Master's degree level of litarary sophistication in one huge swallow, this is the book for you. If you are in a book that takes you through all of the many furtive nasty cracks in a bad man's mind, in order to make a point, this is the book for you...

I cannot help but think that this must be literature, because it is too dense to be a dime novel.

If he wears you out (and Mr. Eco does wear out a reader) within the first 25 pages, so be it. Having finished it, I have the same reaction to this as I did to reading Genet.... brilliant. Sick. Worth it. Never again.
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114 of 125 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writer-not his best work, November 9, 2011
This review is from: The Prague Cemetery (Hardcover)
[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.
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135 of 163 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eco at his second best, September 24, 2011
By 
Thomas F. Dillingham (Columbia, Missouri USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Prague Cemetery (Hardcover)
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Commenting on any work by Umberto Eco is a daunting task. Eco's massive
learning, deployed in each of his books not to impress but to reinforce
the depth and complexity of his thought, as well as the intricacy of
the narrative structures he delights in creating, combine to force doubt
and uncertainty in the mind of a reviewer--have I missed something crucial?
Are the subtleties too remote for my comprehension? Of course, these are
good problems to have, since they are part of the constant pleasure of reading
Eco (whether nonfiction or fiction), and recognizing them as signals that the
characteristics of Eco's work are present in this latest novel.

The Prague Cemetery purports to be the memories of a man of the 19th century,
or arguably two men, since we are shown that "Captain Simonini" is also
"Abbe Dalla Piccola" --though neither of the two men understands at first how
they can both inhabit the same body--but they are a case of multiple personality
disorder, comparable to a woman (Diana) who is being studied and exploited by
psychologists and clerics who find her two personalities (one a "Satanist" who
follows a sect of Freemasons, the other a pious and devout Catholic who is
horrified by the behavior of her alternate personality). The fact that Captain
Simonini encounters a certain "Froide," who is a psychologist working with
the famous Charcot in Paris, reinforces the novel's interest in the transition
from older forms of psychic research (uses of hypnosis by Mesmer and his followers)
toward the "talking cure" and acceptance of the importance of dreams and childhood
trauma in the exploration of adult emotional psychopathology.

Simonini is at the center of this intricate plot, which begins with his self-introduction
and an extended tirade--alternately repulsive and hilarious--in which he establishes
himself as one who loathes and despises nearly every group and nationality he has
encountered in Europe--he deploys the national and ethnic stereotypes familiar from
all expressions of bigotry, and he repeats these corrosive hatreds throughout the
novel at almost every occasion when he encounters a member of a group he finds
subhuman and inferior to, especially, himself. Among these, he includes all women,
of any race or ethnic group, and regularly expresses his horror at the thought of
close contact with any woman (though he never shows any sign of attraction to his
own sex, either). His most powerful and profound hatred, however, is directed toward
the Jews, and that constitutes the driving force of the whole narrative of his
life and activities. He hates the Catholic Church, especially the Jesuit order,
and Freemasons, as well, and this convenient group of targets he uses by exploiting
their rivalries and by setting them against each other through his
schemes and publications, leading finally to his "masterpiece," the combination of
dozens, even hundreds of anti-semitic tirades into what would become the infamous
Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (The vituperative remarks by Simonini toward so
many groups make him somewhat reminiscent of Thomas Bernhard's narrative voices
in such works as Concrete and Old Masters, but also of William Gass's repellent
narrator in The Tunnel. I don't mean to suggest imitation, here, but simply that
there are other characters of similar unpleasantness.)

Simonini, by disguising himself, as well as by employing his alternative persona,
Abbe Dalla Piccola, becomes embroiled at various points (after leaving Italy, where
he had been involved in trying to undermine the unification efforts of Garibaldi and
his cohorts) in the secretive activities of various spy networks--the Prussians,
the Russians, the French, and so on, and in each case, it becomes clear that spies
and secret services have no particular loyalty to any government--in fact, a principle
of successful spy activity seems to be that one must always be ready to transfer one's
services to the next government in power. The various assignments Simonini receives
from his controllers set him to encouraging activities by anti-Catholic, anti-Freemason,
and anti-semitic groups and writers, all of whose works he encourages by offering his
own (or his grandfather's) well-worn writings. Another principle of such hate-mongering
is that it does not matter whether the claims or stories are true or not, nor does it
matter even if they are cribbed from fictions, since the readers who seek them out want
only to have their preconceptions confirmed, and they will read and re-read minor variations
on the same old legends and lies, finding that the familiarity of the stories is
confirmation that they must be true. Recycling narratives is a sure method for attracting
true believers.) Simonini uses an old "legend" of gatherings of rabbis in the Jewish
cemetery in Prague, where they reinforce their beliefs in the inevitable "victory"
of the Jews as they describe the many ways in which Jews will infiltrate all institutions of
Gentile society until they are entirely in control of all political, social, economic, and
educational structures, and thereby dominant throughout the world. This is the "doctrine" of
the Protocols, of course, and Simonini's variations on them lead to his final composition.

The chronology of The Prague Cemetery is complicated in that Simonini and Dalla Piccola are
writing a "diary" in 1897 that attempts to reconstruct (from other notes and documents)
the activities of the preceding forty years, including Simonini's involvement in the
Garibaldian campaigns in Italy, later the Paris Commune as well as other developments
during the tumultuous post-Napoleonic period in France, as well as trying to work out their
relationship to each other and the implications of trying to keep secret the murders and
other activities they have both been involved in.

As I began to read this novel, I almost immediately said to myself that I felt as though
I were back in high school, reading a novel that I had found in the library, Eugene Sue's
The Wandering Jew. It is a novel of complex intrigues and skullduggery, variously
condemning the influence of Jesuits, the Papacy, the Freemasons, and other groups--very
much the roster included in Simonini's rants. Sure enough, as early as page 61, we encounter
our first direct reference to that novel--one title among many (by Dumas and Hugo, especially)
that will occur throughout; the literary world of Paris late in the 19th century is also
shown to be deeply imbued with anti-semitism, indicating Eco's apparent view that no
element of European society, whether aristocratic, capitalist, socialist, or laboring
class can be exempt from the beliefs in conspiracies and exploitation by the Jews
against all the rest of society.

We are told in an endnote that except for Simonini and several minor characters, all the
characters and incidents in this novel are based in historical fact, and all represent
the "secret history" of the evolution of the more powerful and insidious versions of
anti-semitism--leading directly to the "Final Solution"--in Europe. Eco does not suggest
that the Church nor the many variations and sects of Freemasonry are entirely responsible
for the propagation of anti-semitic materials, but they are variously complicit because it
suits their purposes to attack their perceived opponents and to link those opponents to
already established negative groups--most conveniently, the Jews.

It won't do to repeat the incidents of this complex plot, but it is worth noting that
Eco's novel, this time, is negatively affected by the frequent repetition of what are
essentially the same rants--numerous extended and vituperative denunciations of
targeted groups are deployed at too many points of this work, making the reader shrug
after a while with a "here comes another one" feeling. Eco is certainly ingenious
in supplying variations and in using these rants as occasions for the launching of
new developments in Simonini's tortuous career. Even so, the repetitions are finally
counterproductive, and they account for the 4 (rather than 5) star ranking I have
offered here. Everything I have read by Eco has been rewarding in many ways, and
The Name of the Rose remains one of the very finest modern novels, in my view; in
this case, I wish Eco had been more sparing of repetition, as the novel would have
had a more powerful impact, I believe, if it had moved more efficiently from event to
event. Even so, Eco's fans will want to read this and will enjoy it, repulsive as
much of its subject matter must be.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An instant literary counter-cultural classic, November 11, 2011
By 
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Prague Cemetery (Hardcover)
Italian author Umberto Eco includes a note to readers pointing out the fact that the 19th century teemed with mysterious and horrible events. At the centerpiece of this is the infamous PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION, the notorious forgery that later inspired the Dreyfus Case; Hitler; and numerous intrigues involving the secret services of various nations, Masonic sects and Jesuit conspiracies, as well as other episodes that --- were they not documented truths --- would be difficult to believe.

In THE PRAGUE CEMETERY, Eco uses his unique gift of writing about ancient and recent history to recount dozens of events that took place in Europe during the mid- to late-1800s. His principal character, and the only fictional one in the entire book, is Simone Simonini. Among other things, Simone is a spy, forger, glutton and hater of Jews. He is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, a mighty anti-Semite and author of a mysterious actual letter that may have triggered modern anti-Semitism.

What Eco has produced is a novel that exploits conspiracy theories and acts of outright terrorism that are still prevalent fears today. He offers that there will be two kinds of readers who approach this book: those who love historical fiction but have no idea whether or not the events depicted within his story are true, and those who know about these infamous events and has always suspected there may be something more to it. For those readers, Simone Simonini represents the morbid curiosity they feel whenever they are dissecting historical events to find the truth behind the myth.

No one country, person or religious sect is free from scrutiny in this darkly comic and often profane story. Everyone from Jesuits, Freemasons, various Popes and Napoleon himself are subjects of the many tales that are recounted within these pages. Diverse events featuring fabrications, lies and deceit are depicted through various historical storytelling involving black masses, executions and plots to rule the world.

Underneath it all runs the feeling of anti-Semitism that Simone greedily sinks his teeth into as the impetus for the more scandalous events of the 19th century. The midpoint of the novel features the title story of the Prague Cemetery. It is alleged that various rabbis from around Europe gathered at this cemetery in the evening to plot how the Jews would take over the world through both control of the global monetary exchange and the mass media. Arising from these clandestine nocturnal meetings came the most infamous literary forgery in history: THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION. Simone is more than willing to buy into this conspiracy theory. However, as the novel rolls on and more tales of corruption and deceit are raised, Simone begins to suspect the unthinkable. Could the source of all these historical events have been a single individual?

Umberto Eco is a prolific writer having penned dozens of fiction and nonfiction works over the past several decades. He is an author, historian and philosopher who gained world-wide acclaim with his fictional murder mystery THE NAME OF THE ROSE, which was later adapted into a movie starring Oscar winners F. Murray Abraham and Sean Connery. THE PRAGUE CEMETERY combines the full breadth of Eco's talents and experience and has created an instant literary counter-cultural classic that is sure to open up debate and discussion by all who are brave enough to dive in.

Reviewed by Ray Palen
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Power of Social Information, October 18, 2011
This review is from: The Prague Cemetery (Hardcover)
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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.
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139 of 176 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars From the back of the lecture hall..., October 14, 2011
By 
Daniel Myers (Greenville, SC USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Prague Cemetery (Hardcover)
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In the letter to the reader which constitutes the first page of this book, and is also included on this webpage for the novel, at present, Eco writes that he expects the reader to be one of two sorts:

1.) The moronic Dan Brown conspiracy fanatic.

or

2.) The reader who knows his/her history, is aware that events recounted in this book actually transpired and is fully cognizant - made even more piquantly so by this novel - that "these things could happen again today."

I really don't think Eco has to fret himself overmuch about the Dan Brown type. This type of reader seems more than a bit of a fictitious foil that Eco has set up. Perhaps things are different in Italy or on the Continent, but in the Anglophone world the overlap between Brown readers and Eco readers is so small as to be microscopic.

It seems to me that the second type of reader at whom Eco claims, at least, that he is directing this historically-based narrative will not find "his brow beaded with sweat" or be terribly horrified by the character Simonini, whom Eco ever so modestly dubs "the most cynical and disagreeable in all the history of literature." He or she will rather be bored senseless by the countless, repetitive acts of cruelty, cynicism and majestic feats of gastronomy.

There is a third type of reader whom Eco doesn't bother to mention, a reader interested in the reliability of the narration and the narrators. We have the split personalities of Simonini - assuming they really are split. Remember, we have a mysterious editor here who fills in the gaps when neither Simonini's account nor that of his alter ego the abbé will quite do. Who's to say how much the reader can rely upon HIM?

I turn the reader's or prospective reader's attention to the last sentence of the first paragraph of Chapter 16, written by our mysterious editor:

"To be frank, if it were not for the fact that these pages refer to events that actually took place, such alterations between amnesic euphoria and dysphoric might seem like a device of the Narrator."

Ahem, indeed they might.

Actually, the entire book is what I would call an exercise in meta-historical fiction by our author, the renowned professor of Semiotics, and a very tiresome one at that. It's not a question of whether the book is historically accurate. It is. It's a question of Eco playing narrator-identity games with us and whether we enjoy them.

It's a question of whether you fancy your Professor winking at you.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Monstrosity, March 25, 2012
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In the mid-nineteenth century, a rabble of rabbis, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, gathered in the gloom among the crowded and crumbling tombstones of a Czech graveyard relegated to the Jews and plotted the demise of the two hundred and sixty five million Christians populating the Earth at the time. So says the infamously forged document known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Who was behind this forgery? In his latest historical fiction, The Prague Cemetery, Umberto Eco posits that it was the work of one man; a Piedmontese misanthrope, a forger by trade named Simonini. Eco nests the forger's fabulous tale by way of diary entries alternately written by an aged and now mentally disturbed Simonini and his Parisian housemate Abbe Dalla Piccola, within the narration of some intruder who has wandered into their flat and discovered said diary. It sounds more complex than it really is, though the stylistic construct is pure Eco.

Just so the reader won't be too confused, Eco includes a chapter-by-chapter matrix outlining "plot" and "story" at the back of the book. This reader somehow managed to puzzle out the plot/story without the author's aid, even though he was woefully unfamiliar with the historical facts on which the work is predicated. It is a sad commentary on the times when a writer of Eco's intellectual stratum feels it necessary to elucidate his prose structure; did Joyce of Ulysses? Nabokov of Pale Fire? Pynchon of Gravity's Rainbow? Why would one configure a novel with apparent complexity only to append an obligatory annotation?

That bit of animadversion aside, The Prague Cemetery works as an allegory of more modern diabolism: Nazi Germany, Ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica, Rwandan genocide, The KKK, the "vast right wing conspiracy". Bigotry, racism, political division, all are fueled by stereotypes, conspiracy theories, rumor, outright lies; some pervasive enough to incite wars. Think WMD. Eco peppers the tale with just the right amount of nefarious intrigue - murder, espionage, Freemasonry, Devil worship - to interest the reader. He even includes a bit of proto-psychoanalysis, with a cameo by a character named "Froid".

In the afterword, Eco explains that most characters in his historical cautionary tale are real, excavated from the bone-yards of Europe. He tells us that even the protagonist's grandfather, Captain Simonini was veritable, having penned an important letter to the Jesuit, Abbe Augustin Barruel, a sort of conspiracy theorist of his day who had attempted to pin the overthrow of the Bourbons on the secret societies of the Jacobins and the Illuminati, in which he posits his own theory indicting the real culprits behind the ills of the world: The Hebrews. You can understand how an impressionable child at his grandfather's knee might be influenced, and later with all the right (or wrong) twists of fate, might have proliferated a lie so large it led to the Holocaust; an ugly forgery which would fall into the clutches of sociopaths; an utter monstrosity.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Raising the Dead from The Prague Cemetery, October 9, 2011
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When someone wrote: "Umberto Eco at his second-best." I thought: that's Tolstoy's curse for having written "War and Peace." John Le Carre's curse after "Smiley's People." Eco must live with that since "The Name of the Rose." Still that does not diminish this accomplishment.

'The Prague Cemetery' is Dan Brown for grown-ups. This is a work for people who are not learning history, for the first time, from a popular novel. Yet, this is an opportunity to see shards of history disassembled then reassembled as puzzle pieces, into a big, ugly, terrifying picture... Then, as the finished puzzle is coated with a glossy finish, it begins to function as a mirror, which reveals shadows behind out backs that leave us, uneasily, looking over our shoulders.

I'm calling that an amazing piece of work.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A suit from a single thread, October 17, 2011
By 
Jim Tenuto (San Diego, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Prague Cemetery (Hardcover)
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Simply, a masterpiece. In THE PRAGUE CEMETERY, Umberto Eco proves that in literature he is like a fine tailor, able to weave a suit from a single thread. His premise, what if the seminal events of the 19th century had their roots, their inspiration, from a single man? That man, Simone Simonini. From this Italian notary turned forger, we are treated to Eco's treatment of Italy's Risorgimento, the Dreyfus Affair, The Paris Commune, and the anti-Semitic work, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Simonini is a perfectly despicable character, a misogynistic glutton who loathes everyone and every nationality. He can and does find fault with the French, Germans, Italians, though he reserves a special distaste for the Jews. Simonini is the perfect platform to explain the rampant anti-Seminism that plagued Europe from the middle of the 19th century, a direct line to "The Final Solution." "Odi egro sum. I hate therefore I am."

He is not a sympathetic character. In fact, the reader is hard pressed to find any sympathetic characters. Simonini's driving force, fueled by his prejudice, is sheer avarice. He has no moral compass, does not feel strongly about any cause or political philosophy. He merely wants money to fund his hedonistic lifestyle.

What is singularly impressive about this book is that all of the characters with the exception of Simonini actually existed, and the circumstances described in THE PRAGUE CEMETERY occurred. As implausible as Leo Taxil, a mountebank of stunning stature, may appear, he not only lived, but actually continuously duped Jesuits, Masons, and the leading newspapers of the day. Golovinsky, the Ohkrana operative historically identified as the midwife of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" (this masterful forgery credited with "inspiring" Adolf Hitler's MEIN KAMPF), makes an appearance.

THE PRAGUE CEMETERY is a complex book. Wikipedia replaced Cliff's Notes as Eco introduces characters and circumstances that bear further research. Wonderful, rich, oddly humorous, enhanced by scores of etchings, most from the author's private collection, THE PRAGUE CEMETERY could be the best book of the year.
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The Prague Cemetery
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (Hardcover - November 8, 2011)
$27.00 $3.31
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