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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult but interesting read.,
Pros: fascinating look at a period of history largely ignored by modern readers, thought provoking
Cons: lots of politically incorrect and thereby uncomfortable speeches, vivid depiction of a black mass, unlikable protagonist
Simone Simonini's personal motto is, Odi ergo sum. I hate, therefore I am. An Italian living in Paris, Simonini hates: the Germans, the French, the Italians, women, Jesuits, and most importantly, the Jews. Which is why, after years of forging documents and fermenting chaos for various government agencies, he has created his masterpiece - a document that will turn the nations of the world against the Jews.
The novel begins with Simonini having lost his memory. He starts a diary in order to remember who he is, starting with his youth. Abbe Dalla Piccola, living in an adjoining apartment, has also lost his memory, but seems to know what happened during segments of Simonini's past, adding his own notes to Simonini's writings. Are they the same person? Or did Simonini merely confess these actions to the abbot?
Simonini is not a likable protagonist, and the book is an uncomfortable read, both due to Simonini's extremely vitriolic hate speeches (against many groups but there's more anti-semitic sentiment than others) as well as for a detailed description of a black mass (modified Latin and all). The second chapter of the book serves as a litmus test for the rest, shocking the reader and daring you to read on. If you can get past chapter 2 you'll have read the worst - though not the only - hate speeches in the book.
The book takes place during the late 1800s, when racist sentiments were the norm. Based on real people and events, it's a difficult, yet fascinating world to be thrown into. Along the way you encounter Alexander Dumas, Sigmund Freud (spelled Froide in the book), the Satanic cultist Abbot Boullan and more. From the Second Italian War of Independence to the Paris Commune of 1871, you'll be exposed to the bitter realities of the times. A reader would do well to have quick access to wikipedia in order to learn more about some of the strange - and accurate - things mentioned.
The Prague Cemetery is more accessible to the average reader than some of Eco's other novels which, given the sarcasm inherent in his forward and afterward is likely due to pressure from his publisher. Most of the foreign language segments have been translated into English, and he's helpfully provided a timeline at the back of the book for those who couldn't follow the narrative. A dramatis personae list would have been more helpful, as characters pass in and out of the work so frequently it's hard to remember who they are when they return.
In his forward Eco makes it clear that having his meticulously researched work of fiction compared to a popular (and more fanciful) work like The Da Vinci Code is something of an insult, despite how entertaining the latter book may be. He assumes there are two types of readers - The Da Vinci Code thrill seeker who will take all the events depicted in The Prague Cemetery as entertaining fiction, and the more intelligent reader who is interested in history and recognizes the real events and characters depicted and who see the horror inherent in the underlying message that real people did these things.
It seems that Eco is commenting on how far we as humans have come in the past two hundred years, by reminding us of where we've been. If so, it's also a warning of how easy it is to fall prey to visionaries, revolutionaries and fraudsters. And how readily others are willing to exploit us. Caveat lector: Let the reader, beware.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Satirical Invention in which Prejudice and Manipulation Are Revealed to Their Naked Roots,
At first, I thought I must be reading a book written by a reincarnated Voltaire who had majored in 19th century European history. As someone who did major in 19th century European history in college, I was fascinated to see how many real historical threads masterful novelist Umberto Eco tied together to one fictional character. In his cupidity, antihero Simone Simonini is a perfect reflection of the world he describes in terms of cynically fanning the flames of hate to advance some momentary interest or another. The opening pages are simply stunning in terms of their self-indictment of how little prejudice is usually based on.
From there, I'm sure you'll enjoy reading how many forged documents and "informational" campaigns were based on obscure novels that had been forgotten by many people. I almost fell out of my chair laughing in places while being reminded how many such deceptions were taken from the very same sources.
This book is so rich in history, perspective, and psychology that it could easily become the subject for a doctoral dissertation. I don't remember another modern novel with nearly this much intellectual content . . . put together in such an entertaining way. I agree that it's destined to be considered a masterpiece.
I hope that many young readers will have opportunities to read and to discuss its content in class. Such an investigation will help inoculate them against much of the cynical posturing that today's politicians and opinion makers engage in . . . for their own benefit and for the harm of most everyone else. In that sense, the book will seem at some levels as if it were also describing the 21st century.
Just marvelous! Don't miss it!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Clever Parody of Evil,
5.0 out of 5 stars An amasing book,
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This review is from: The Prague Cemetery (Kindle Edition)An amasing author, and all i can say is that i am sorry i didnt read more of his novels. Inteligent, sarcasm, a load of historical and cultural insights. Was a delight reading it!
4.0 out of 5 stars nineteenth century looked back on from today's vantage point,
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The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco