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on October 10, 2013
A fever dream about hatred, and the 19th century conspiracies that really did happen (almost every character except the narrator is real) this is a powerful work, but a strange work. Naive readers might even believe that it is a hymn to hatred (and particularly hatred of Jews) although most will recognize the angry undercurrent of contempt. That said, it is not something for everyone: It is something that will mostly appeal to those with either (a) an obsession with 19th century European history (guilty!), (b) a deep interest in how anti-semitism moved into a political realm when it had previously been a superstition (ditto), or (c) an abiding love for the crazy linguistic trickery of Umberto Eco, which is still remarkable even in translation (in spades). Eco is never one to sacrifice impact for readability, and there are moments that are slow-going, but it is intense, interesting - and chilling. And yes, a bit crazy, as is appropriate for a book about a kind of mental illness that spread through Europe by one of our cleverest novelists.
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on February 14, 2015
This is a well written book by an author whom I have read before and enjoyed much. The description of life in Paris in the late 1800's is interesting. If the book had wound down half way through, I would be saying that I liked it. But the more it went on the more horrible was the main character and the constant imagery of the times the more depressing. Finally I just want to throw in the towel and give up on humanity. What a mess of treachery and debauchery and disregard for anything that is beautiful and true. Except for food,as it has some good recipes. I read it through to the bitter end, because that is what I do. But if want to know more about the life of ordinary people in this time, maybe check an encyclopedia.
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on January 4, 2012
Eco may not be the world's greatest craftsman, but he knows how to tell a good story and pack a lot of juicy stuff into a few pages. And this novel is *much* shorter than some of his previous ones (most of them, in fact). The back story of how The Protocols of the Elders of Zion came to be written rips to the heart of the Euro-American culture of racism. The main character (or characters, depending on how you read the psychic rift between them) isn't merely anti-Semitic but fully misanthropic and misogynistic, as well. He is so perfectly everything he disdains in Germans, Jews, the French and in all women that he becomes tragically funny. And he is, at Eco points out in his Useless Notes, still among us: his name is Legion, Santorum, Bachman, Paul and many others. Here is my favorite passage from the novel: "Someone said that patriotism is the last refuge of cowards; those without moral principles usually wrap a flag around themselves, and the bastards always talk about the purity of the race. National identity is the last bastion of the dispossessed. But the meaning of identity is now based on hatred, on hatred for those who are not the same.... You don't love someone for your whole life.... But you can hate someone for your whole life, provided he's always there to keep your hatred alive. Hatred warms the heart."
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on March 29, 2013
Very well writen. His characters are all actual connected through a fictious central one. Humans who existed in the 19th century
except for Simone Simonini (he comes without vital organs) This name popped up 222 times on various ships' passengers logs
in both Castle Garden & Ellis Island NYC. About 1/2 way through the book he comes to the Old Jewish Cemetery in the city
of Prague where he invents a cladestine meeting by the Elders of Zion. It's hard to believe that this place still exists today after the horrid events of WWII-it's packed with Hebrew headstones- perhaps it was hard to find & covered over by weeds otherwise it would have been destroyed. This current novel, as his previous one "The Name Of The Rose" would translate well to the Big Screen provided they hand pick the cast which would consist of mostly males as did the previous movie. Well worth reading.
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on January 3, 2015
This is a masterpiece, on of the best books I've read in quite a while -- bought hard copy as a Christmas gift for my nephew, in fact. The main character is compelling drawn, wholly believable and so utterly loathsome as to become almost an iconic representation of evil in literature, but evil in a small bore sort of way. That is, the consequences of his actions are horrific, but he does not experience his sins deeply, from a moral perspective. Rather, they are mere expedients to meet pedestrian ends of comfort and survival. There are traumatic events in his life that have interesting psychological consequences, but moral maturity is not one of them. The book also has a wonderful quality of black humor. In short, this is a must read.
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on November 14, 2012
Eco is most ingenious at inserting a mythical character into historical events and this is a masterpiece of the genre. He is not only totally immersed in the the finer points of European history, he creates his own character to slip seamlessly into that history.

Some reviewers have commented adversely on some of the the language and perceived "racism" without understanding that, in the period covered by the work, that is exactly how people spoke! It is details of that sort that make the book such a valuable supplement to standard books of history.

The ending is simply brilliant, and much more convincing than that of, say, Baudolino, which slips into fantasy after the death of Frederick.

I read this through fairly fast to get an overall picture of it, and then again more slowly, savoring the finer and subtle points.
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on May 27, 2014
From the Jewish persecution perspective,this is probably ancient history revisited.Eco is one of my favorite authors,ever since the Name of the Rose,and this is a more modern era story.He follows one very unusual manic schizophrenic amnesiac throughout his many trials and tribulations making a living an an antiquarian,attorney/notary,priest,writer,historian.The Prague Cemetery itself,is not even mentioned until page 100,and not again for almost another 100 pages. It is an historical Cemetery,which deserves another whole book dedicated to its story.It is tangential to this book in retrospect,despite the title. Please do yourself the favor of at least looking at Google images of the Prague Cemetery to get an idea of the Jewish burial burden they faced in extremely limited space.The description of the overcrowded graveyard "looking like the crooked teeth inside a witches mouth" is very apt. It has to be seen to get perspective on what really happened,and then it is hard to fathom.The book is similarly bizarre,and worth the effort to understand history.
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on February 16, 2015
Through the course of the story you become aware of what seem to me lesser-known events of the 19th century in Europe. The narrator is ironically offensive to everyone, but with his particular hatred of the Jewish faith and people his words and deeds have a town of literary irony and tragedy in view of the events to follow in the 20th century. I can see why many might not tolerate this book. But the anti-hero narrator seems typical of Eco, who seems to prefer a narrator who is boisterous and even inclined to falsify facts for a good story.

The narrator of the story is as engaging as Barry Lyndon or Humbert Humbert; as offensive as either; as naive as Lyndon and as strategic as Humbert.

The main tension in the story is to resolve: is the main narrator, Simone Simonini, the same as Abbe Dalla Piccola? And of the course of the attempt to resolve this issue, another story unfolds--that of Simonini and Dalla Piccola and their involvement in various occult religious and state affairs.

Overall: an entertaining read.
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on March 15, 2016
The author is, obviously, a SUPER intellectual, which is evidenced by his frequent references to literary, historical events. These parts of the b ook were great, in that it almost forces the reader to research these allusions. I learned an awful lot regarding the origins of the Elders of the Protocols of Zion, which was good, since references, unfortunately, are still being made to these ugly events and should be slashed from the supposed pages of history as anti-Semites perceive these nightmares. I have read the author's other book, which gave med the same reaction(s). Concluding my critique, bearing in mind the prior comments, I definitely suggest that one should read this tome, which certainly enlivens your intelligence.
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VINE VOICEon March 25, 2012
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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