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The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana Hardcover – Bargain Price, June 3, 2005

3.5 out of 5 stars 100 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, June 3, 2005
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The premise of Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, may strike some readers as laughably unpromising, and others as breathtakingly rich. A sixty-ish Milanese antiquarian bookseller nicknamed Yambo suffers a stroke and loses his memory of everything but the words he has read: poems, scenes from novels, miscellaneous quotations. His wife Paola fills in the bare essentials of his family history, but in order to trigger original memories, Yambo retreats alone to his ancestral home at Solara, a large country house with an improbably intact collection of family papers, books, gramophone records, and photographs. The house is a museum of Yambo's childhood, conventiently empty of people, except of course for one old family servant with a long memory--an apt metaphor for the mind. Yambo submerges himself in these artifacts, rereading almost everything he read as a school boy, blazing a meandering, sometimes misguided, often enchanting trail of words. Flares of recognition do come, like "mysterious flames," but these only signal that Yambo remembers something; they do not return that memory to him. It is like being handed a wrapped package, the contents of which he can only guess.

Within the limitations of Yambo's handicap and quest, Eco creates wondrous variety, wringing surprise and delight from such shamelessly hackneyed plot twists as the discovery of a hidden room. Illustrated with the cartoons, sheet music covers, and book jackets that Yambo uncovers in his search, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana can be read as a love letter to literature, a layered excavation of an Italian boyhood of the 1940s, and a sly meditation on human consciousness. Both playful and reverent, it stands with The Name of the Rose and The Island of the Day Before as among Eco's most successful novels. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

When aging Italian book-dealer Yambo, hero of this engaging if somewhat bloodless novel of ideas, regains consciousness after a mysterious coma, he suffers a peculiar form of amnesia. His "public" memory of languages, everyday routines, history and literature remains intact, but his autobiographical memory of personal experiences—of his family, lovers, childhood, even his name—is gone. He can spout literary and cultural allusions on any topic, citing everything from Moby-Dick to Star Trek, but complains, "I don't have feelings, I only have memorable sayings." To recover his past, he repairs to his boyhood home to peruse a cache of memorabilia amassed in his youth during Mussolini's reign and WWII, consisting of comic books, schoolbooks, Fascist propaganda, popular music, romantic novels and his own poetry about an unattainable high school beauty. The setup allows semiotician and novelist Eco (The Name of the Rose, etc.) to indulge his passion for pulp materials by reproducing such objects as movie posters, song lyrics and a graphic novella rendering the Book of Revelation as a Flash Gordon melodrama, with intriguing asides on cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind thrown in. The result has a somewhat academic feel, but it's an absorbing exploration of how that most fundamental master-narrative, our memory, is pieced together from a bricolage of pop culture. Illus. Author tour. (June)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Illustrate edition (June 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0681141336
  • ISBN-13: 978-0681141339
  • ASIN: B003GAN1ZW
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,505,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lonya VINE VOICE on June 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
to one another. To live is to remember and to remember is to live. To die is to forget and to forget is to die." Samuel Butler

I approached Umberto Eco's new novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, with some trepidation. I have sometime found Eco's work to be a bit difficult to get through. It became very apparent that I would have no such problems with this book. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana was not only a very accessible book but, more importantly, it was at once both immensely enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Before turning to the book itself, I found it interesting that the book is filled with illustrations. Throughout the book World War Two propaganda posters, newspaper clippings, comic book pages, and ads from Italian fashion magazines are printed alongside the text. Some might assert that Eco's reliance on illustrations may detract from the text or represent something of a gimmick. I think the illustrations are visually stunning and serve to recreate the social and political atmosphere of Italy in the 1930s and 1940s during which time much of the book takes place. They add a visual punch to the thoughts of Eco's narrator.

The book opens with Giambattista Boldoni, a 59-year old rare book dealer, awaking from a light coma in a hospital after suffering a stroke. It is determined quickly that Boldoni, known to his friends and family since childhood as Yambo, is suffering from partial amnesia. Although he has a vivid memory of social and cultural events through his life he has no memory of anything relating to his personal life. The first chapter is a classic of pop-culture allusions and metaphors. Yambo's sentences come out in stream of consciousness fashion with no personal context at all.
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Format: Hardcover
Umberto Eco is one of the few writers whose incredible intelligence blazes on every page of his books. Fortunately, despite the fact that his intelligence cannot be ignored, he generally doesn't make his reader feel small and stupid. In fact, when Eco is at his best, the fascinations of the story draw you in and make you forget the challenges of what you are reading. When he is at his worst, the going gets tougher, like listening to a professor who is interesting but not really entertaining. In The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana we get Eco at his best and worst.

This novel is divided into three parts and the first part is as good as anything Eco's written since The Name of the Rose. We are given the interesting premise of a man, Yambo, who has lost the memory of the events of his life while retaining the memory of the things he has learned--the books he has read, the music he has heard, etc. Eco is able to believably evoke the experience of this man whose mind is like a textbook, full of facts but with no connection to the people who sees before him. It is a fascinating point of view. As the story progresses, he and his family and friends attempt to figure out ways to bring back his personal memories. To that end, he is packed off alone to his childhood home in Solara.

It is in part two, the stay in Solara, where the going gets tougher. This section is basically a review of the music and literature of pre- and post-WWII Italy. Not being Italian, I had very little connection to the bulk of the material described though it did evoke some memories of my own childhood literary experiences. It is amazing how much literature really does become universal in Western culture.
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Format: Hardcover
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is one of Eco's richest novels in a while...perhaps the richest since The Name of the Rose. Each of his novels, all of them, have provided the patient reader with rewards aplenty. The Mysterioius Flame, you will find, is worth the effort it takes to read it.

Yambo, a 60ish antiquarian book seller has a stroke that virtually wipes his mind clean...clean as if someone had erased a chalk board. The only memory he has is of the words he has read...all of them. His personal life, the fine points of reference we all need to know who we are...to define ourselves is gone. No recollection of family, friends, history....gone.

Yambo retreats to the family estate, Solara, where he has kept virtually every scrap of paper, every photograph...all the things we all keep to keep track of ourselves. He hopes that by surrounding himself with this material he will be able to regain his memory.

Eco is a superbly rick novelist. His stories are made up of various layers, each supporting and enhancing the other. The characters are memorable, the story well weaved. Even his setting, Solara is a treat. I can't help but believe that part of the difficulty in reading his work is due to the translating. Certainly Eco is several levels above most of his contemporaries. Does America have anyone like him.

You'll love the Mysterious Flame.
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Format: Hardcover
Memory is a subject recurring in literature. Umberto Eco's latest novel is an exhilirating romp through pop culture. Readers are left as dazzled as the narrator Yambo in dissecting everything from poetry to illustrated postcards, gramophone records to newspaper articles. Yambo never manages to recover his sense of identity after his journey through his childhood library at his country home in Solara. Is memory tied to a recall of the larger culture? Eco seems to say no to this question and at the end of the novel we are like Yambo in still being enshrouded in the fog of memory. In contrast to Marcel Proust's "Temps Perdu," in which the famous tea and madeleine cake recapture a lifetime for the narrator, in "The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana" Yambo's efforts to rediscover his persona is thwarted by all he reads, sees, hears and experiences. Eco's reading of the human experience is as elusive as his subject and the novel above all is an ode to a lifetime of scholarly study of the hidden meanings of literature and life.
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