The Prague Cemetery

by Umberto Eco

Other authorsRichard Dixon
Book, 2011

Barcode

123459988

Call number

FIC ECO

Collection

Publication

Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.

Description

19th-century Europe, from Turin to Prague to Paris, abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious. Conspiracies rule history. Jesuits plot against Freemasons, Italina priests are strangled with their own intestines. French criminals plan bombings by day and celebrate black masses by night. Every nation has its own secret service, perpetrating forgeries, plots, and massacres. From teh unification of Italy to the Paris Commune to the Dreyfus Affair to the notorious forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", Europe is in tumult and everyone needs a scapegoat. But, what if, behind all these conspiracies both real and imagined, lay just one man? What if that evil genius created the most infamous document of all?

Media reviews

Eco's mastery of the milieu is evident on every page of "The Prague Cemetery."
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If the creation of Simone Simonini is meant to suggest that behind the credibility-straining history lurks a sick spirit compounded of equal parts self-serving cynicism and irrational malice, who can argue? And even if the best parts of “The Prague Cemetery” are those he did not invent, Eco is
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to be applauded for bringing this stranger-than-fiction truth vividly to life.
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The real story, then, is one that “The Prague Cemetery” hints at but does not for all its polymath erudition manage to capture: our impotence in the face of an obvious forgery, an absurd pastiche against which the ramparts of reason afford astonishingly feeble protection.
Eco’s 19th century shocker has an Italian, Captain Simonini, as the man responsible, the only fictional character in the book. The story involves Freemasons against Catholics, Garibaldi against the Bourbons, Russian spies, German double agents, murky murders, plotting prelates, black masses and
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orgies. If all this sounds like a richly sensational read, you couldn’t be more wrong.
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Simonini’s as disgraceful as they come, and those who feel the need to bond with a narrator will be instantly put off by this novel. But “The Prague Cemetery” isn’t trying to make us feel better about ourselves. It’s meant to remind us of the dangers of complacency and credulousness.
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It’s meant to be unsettling. And by that measure, it’s a huge success.
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For all its difficulties, The Prague Cemetery is an important novel. The book’s implicit question is terrifying: are the same social frustrations at work today to revive The Protocols's anti-Semitism?
"The Prague Cemetery" is a similarly ambitious interpretation of the collective dreams of a century, and it serves a similar purpose: dissecting neuroses, which, left untreated, ensure a continual, increasingly virulent return of the repressed.
“The Prague Cemetery” is certainly engrossing and cautionary, but it mainly offers, to adopt Joseph Conrad’s biblical-sounding phrase, the appalling fascination of the abomination. Be aware, then, that Umberto Eco hasn’t produced anything close to what one might call a fun read or a light
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entertainment. “The Prague Cemetery” is, in fact, an all-out horror story.
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Det verkliga problemet är att boken är sövande tråkig [...] Berättelsen saknar driv och tyngs ner av tusen onödiga detaljer. Språket är platt, gestaltningen obefintlig, den fåniga ramhistorien förutsägbar och poänglös.
I ”Begravningsplatsen i Prag” får omoralen tala fritt, och den kväljande bismak som romanen lämnar efter sig är infogad i texten.
Begravningsplatsen i Prag är ett väldigt panorama över ett århundrade och dess olika andliga och kvasiandliga miljöer.
What does it all add up to? An indictment of the old Europe, for one thing, and a perplexing, multilayered, attention-holding mystery.
Voor de liefhebbers van Eco is De begraafplaats van Praag onweerstaanbaar – door de plot (wie is toch die onbekende perverseling die de Protocollen schreef?), door de literair-historische verwijzingen (onder meer naar Joseph Conrads terroristenroman The Secret Agent) en door de humor
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(‘dysenterie verzekerd, voor een schappelijke prijs,’ schrijft Simonini over een slecht restaurant). Maar bij de lezer met minder geduld zal deze moderne versie van De geheimen van Parijs al snel half gelezen op de salontafel stranden. Commercieel gezien hoeft Dan Brown zich voorlopig geen zorgen te maken.
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Guardian
In this rambling, ramshackle picaresque novel, the bilious Captain Simone Simoni slithers across Europe in the pay of one secret service after another, claiming personal responsibility for the calumnies that provoked most of the political crises of the 19th century... Simonini's customers and
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victims are all actual historical characters, which enables Eco to suggest that history is a tissue of fictions, not a tale told by an idiot but a text slickly pieced together by self-appointed authorities who should never be trusted... Despite the venom, The Prague Cemetery is a literary exercise, a novel that contains a critique of its own artifice. Eco awards himself the capitalised status of Narrator, and tries to elucidate the maunderings of two less reliable narrators, Simonini and a priest who is his alter ego. Wittily self-conscious, Eco discourses on the difference between plot and story, and supplies a diagram of their parallel development to help us through the labyrinth. This is a book made from a garbling of other books, with Victor Hugo, Proust and Zola, among its mob of subsidiary characters.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member LolaWalser
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
The Prague Cemetery is something like a more anti-heroic Fight Club set in late 19th-century Paris, using a diary framework to provide a thorough excavation of the self-dissociated central character. The Piedmontese Simone Simonini is as vile a creature as one can imagine, guilty of venal crimes
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that he sees through to their murderous conclusions, and of a great misdeed to bear fruit over succeeding generations. He is a double-crossing pseudo-spy, filled with misogyny, antisemitism, paranoia, and avarice. At one point, contemplating an author he has met, Simonini remarks, "I have been told that the great storytellers always portray themselves in their characters" (275). Such an adage invites application to the author of The Prague Cemetery himself, but why or how would Umberto Eco want to be compared to Simonini?

As a career forger who has been enlisted by the intelligence apparatuses of various powers, most often to fabricate "evidence" damning those they'd like to do away with, Simonini plagiarizes novels for his "historical" documents. Eco plagiarizes history for his novel. (He assures us that Simonini is the only fictional character of substance in the whole thing.) Eco's motives like Simonini's are didactic and propagandistic. Simonini wants to warn his readers about the Jews and their plots, Eco wants to warn us about antisemitism and its cultural conditions.

The fabrication of political scapegoats to suffer the outrages of authoritarian violence is not limited to the 20th-century antisemitic movements which are shown being incubated in this novel. Russian secret police have a part to play in The Prague Cemetery, and I would encourage those who read this book today to observe the persecution of gays and lesbians in Russia by means of cultural capital produced in America: the "family values" and anti-"homosexualist" rhetoric crafted by right-wing churches and think tanks. (Scott Lively is one of today's more obvious Simone Simoninis.)

Bereft of any nobler motivation, Simonini takes his chief enjoyment in life from food. The novel has occasional raptures of gastronomical detail, reminiscent of Huysmanns' diabolical 1890s novel La-Bas (which also includes--a clef--some of Eco's historical characters). A surprising but effective feature is an assortment of full-page illustrations from period engravings, at the rate of roughly one per chapter.

The Prague Cemetery does resume a number of themes from Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. But in this case, the seemingly more bizarre facts are even more authentic, and the moral upshot is more persuasive and important. Those who enjoy the historical elements of this story and don't mind adding a bit of whimsy to the incendiary past can continue on without diachronic interruption to Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day.
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LibraryThing member Poquette
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member GarySeverance
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
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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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LibraryThing member pierthinker
Eco is a master at writing historical fiction with a clear and special relevance to the present day and with an accurate representation of the past.

The book is presented as the journal of Captain Simonini, originally from Italy, but a long time resident in Paris, written at the end of the 19th
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century and describes his life and work. Europe is awash with conspiracy theories, espionage, secret organisations and always the need to find scapegoats to blame when things go wrong.

Simonini has become and expert forger and is much in demand to create wills and other legal documents to support his clients’ claims. He is also drawn in to the darker worlds of conspiracy and espionage where he begins to create documents and paper trails with a distinct anti-Semitic bent. This activity ultimately causes him to write the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an entirely fictitious and disproved work that, nevertheless, became a founding element in the anti-semitism movement in the 20th century and was taken up by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Eco does two things with this book. The first is to provide an extraordinarily factual historic background to the narrative; almost every character and event in the book is part of the historic record. The second and most important thing is to show how totally ridiculous, almost comical, these conspiracies and ‘documented revelations’ were. As I read this book today I kept asking myself how anyone could fall for, let alone believe, such twaddle.

This is an important book in the fight against racism and against anti-semitism in particular. It shows how the gullible and unscrupulous both can be used by and use what we would today call trolling to achieve the key aim of deflecting blame and responsibility for some perceived failure onto the wholly innocent. That Eco does this with such humour is a mark of his greatness as an author.
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LibraryThing member invisiblelizard
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Panopticon2
Sad to say, I think I'm about ready to give up on Umberto Eco. "The Name of the Rose" was masterful, but he's struggled to produce anything of similar quality since. "The Prague Cemetery" suffers from the same malady as "Foucault's Pendulum" - namely, that the flyleaf makes it sound like the most
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intriguing read ever, but the story never lives up to that promise. Signor Eco overuses devices like multiple narration, split personalities, and tangential plot-lines (whole chunks of his novels go down narrative rabbit-holes which lead to nothing). "The Prague Cemetery" really suffers from this, with an entire early chapter given over to two characters arguing with each other (via letter) about which one is real and which is a figment of the imagination. By the end of it, I felt my will to live draining away.

Not to say that the book is utterly without merit - the last hundred pages or so got really juicy, with episodes ranging from a Satanic black mass, to the Dreyfus Affair, and the publication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I just wish I hadn't had to slog through 350 pages of maddeningly erudite obfuscation, to get to it.
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LibraryThing member AnneDenney
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.
LibraryThing member kushtaka9962
l finally got it done after trying to read it while in the busiest of the college semesters. This was the perfect novel to read under such circumstances since its controversial nature made it easy to come back to after a long spell of time in between. I enjoy the writing style and excellent use of
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historical perspectives. I'll be looking forward to read other novels from Eco's works. I may read this one again, this time at a faster pace, I suspect that if I do so, the novel will have a different flavor.
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LibraryThing member Strider66
Translated from Italian by Richard Dixon

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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Gwendydd
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member kushtaka9962
l finally got it done after trying to read it while in the busiest of the college semesters. This was the perfect novel to read under such circumstances since its controversial nature made it easy to come back to after a long spell of time in between. I enjoy the writing style and excellent use of
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historical perspectives. I'll be looking forward to read other novels from Eco's works. I may read this one again, this time at a faster pace, I suspect that if I do so, the novel will have a different flavor.
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LibraryThing member ChrisConway
Beautifully written in many ways, provocative in what it proposes about authorship and truth, but also repetitive and arcane in its convoluted historical background. I skimmed the last two hundred pages.
LibraryThing member sparehed
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
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timely!
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LibraryThing member Hubster

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
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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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LibraryThing member AltheaAnn
I've delayed a bit, writing about this book, because I have some ambivalent feelings about it.
Don't get me wrong, I love Eco, and admire his writing greatly - for its prose style, its structure, its meticulous research - the book more than deserves 4 stars. It's a very worthwhile read.
However,
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time spent reading this book is time spent in the company of venal, reprehensible men. It's not a pleasant experience. Eco is theorizing, recreating the character of the bigoted, self-serving individual who may have created the infamous 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion,' and he, and everyone around him, is corrupt and nasty. However, this character is not unintelligent, and in his philosophizing, often speaks with Eco's voice... but then turns around and says something just awful - it makes for an interesting but challenging read, figuring out the author's intentions.
I also have mixed feelings about the plot device of having the narrator be an amnesiac/split personality, trying to piece together his identity and past. It was interesting, yes, but it wasn't necessary to the story, and I felt it was also too similar to the device used in 'Queen Loana.' Much like 'Loana' as well, the book is 'illustrated' with historical engravings 'from the author's collection.' The images are fascinating, but I wish that more specific historical context/credit for them had been provided.
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LibraryThing member spacegirl3000
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
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read so far at all, if the name Umberto Eco didn't stand in the front. Totally disappointed.
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LibraryThing member Limelite
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
We realized we had gone too far; the idea of a three-headed devil who banqueted with the leader of the Italian government was difficult to swallow.

The protagonist of Umberto Eco's novel is not a sympathetic character. His first words to the reader are in the form of an epic rant in which he
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disparages and reviles every single group he can think of; women, Jews, Catholics, Germans, the French, Jesuits, and Freemasons are among those singled out for his disgust. And Simonini never does a single thing to endear himself to the reader.

And that's my quibble with this outrageous, conspiracy-driven book. It's similar to Foucault's Pendulum, being full of arcane plots and secret societies, and to Baudolino with an opportunistic main character who deals in forgeries. But while Casaubon and Baudolino were engaging characters despite their flaws, Simonini is a guy who inspires only a mild distaste. With a complex plot that requires concentration and a good grasp of nineteenth century European history (among other things), I needed someone to hold on to through the cyclone of events and obscure references.

Simonini gets his professional start forging wills and titles for an unscrupulous lawyer, until that gentleman dies and leaves Simonini his business, in an unexpected will. Simonini is then asked to implicate his friends in an imaginary plot, which then lead to an assignment with Garibaldi's forces in the South of Italy and on to further work in Paris. Simonini is less a spy than someone who is able to enjoy the reputation of a spy and to convey that reputation into a steady income. But his masterpiece, one that takes much of his life to complete and use appropriately, involves an imaginary meeting of rabbis in the Jewish cemetery in Prague in which they agree on a series of protocols that will allow them to control the world.

The conspiracies that Simonini is involved in are fantastic. More than a few times I'd be reading along and think, "hey, that sounds a little like that scandal/affair/coup," only to realize that it was that scandal/affair/coup and that Eco has the entire event based on Simonini's forgeries and groups with devious intentions.

This is a book I struggled with in part because my grasp of the history of that time is shallow and unsteady. I'd like to reread this book in a few years, with a bit of advance reading under my belt. I suspect I will like it more with a second reading.
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LibraryThing member Ameise1
Umberto Eco says about this book that only the narrator is a fiction and all the other characters from the second half of the 19th century are real people. The events correspond to historical facts. The whole thing reads like a thriller. It tells of Garibaldi's campaign in Sicily, the Dreyfus
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Afaire, anti-Semitism, the fear of the Masonic lodges and the psychiatric 'mode' of Dr. Freud and his contemporaries.
It starts with the amnesia of the narrator, who decided, therefore, what he has experienced and done to bring in the form of a diary on paper. He suddenly discovered that a second I, which appears in the form of a priest, writes down his memories in this diary, too. This is made great because of the font in the book changes, according as who writes down his thoughts.
It is not only the fears at the time, about Eco writes but also the rapid technological and political changes.
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LibraryThing member bookczuk
I am putting this aside for now. HAve been listening to the audio book. The reader is one I like (he's read other Eco books), the writing is good, but my lack of Italian history is taking a toll. I also am jsut not that engaged in the main character(s). (Amnesia plays a large part in several of
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Eco's books, including this one.)

Another problem is that the copy of this that I was listening to was pretty damaged, and thus hunks of the story had to be skipped. I'll wait to find either a print copy or an undamaged audio version and relisten to disks 5&6 to catch up and fill in the blanks.
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LibraryThing member suetu
“I hate therefore I am”

The quote above tells you almost everything you need to know about the protagonist of Umberto Eco's latest novel. Set in 19th century Europe, Captain Simonini is an equal opportunity misanthrope, and early in the novel there's a lengthy diatribe against not only the Jews
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(always very much at the center of Simonini's hatred), but also the Germans, French, Italians, priests, Jesuits, Masons, women, and several other groups in asides. Simonini expounds, "They say that a soul is simply what a person does. But if I hate someone, and I cultivate this grudge, then, by God, that means there is something inside! What does the philosopher say? Odi ergo sum. I hate therefore I am."

I think it took me about three attempts to make it past these over-the-top opening salvos of hatred, and a smarter reader would have quit, but Eco has defeated me in the past, and I was determined to read this entire book. Why? Why? The Prague Cemetery is a dense, complex, convoluted tour through 19th century European history. (I strongly recommend that you acquire a Ph.D. in the subject before you sit down to read.) Simonini, it seems, is--Forrest Gump-like--at the center of almost all major events, and pretty much behind every conspiracy of the era.

As you may have gathered above, he is not a good guy. At one point he justifies: "Yes, I admit it. In my conduct toward my would-be Carbonari comrades, and to Rebaudengo, I did not act in accordance with the morals you are supposed to preach. But let us be frank: Rebaudengo was a rogue, and when I think of all I have done since then, I seem to have practiced all of my roguery on rogues." Yeah, right.

The novel is an autobiography of sorts, as there is some confusion as to Simonini's identity. He seems to be possibly inhabiting the same apartment? body? mind? as a clergyman named Abbé Dalla Piccola. Simonini's memory is full of holes, which Dalla Piccola seems to be able to fill, as he inserts his own recollections into Simonini's written document. Does this sound confusing? You have no idea. "Abbé Dalla Piccola seems to reawaken only when Simonini needs a voice of conscious to accuse him of becoming distracted and to bring him back to reality, otherwise he appears somewhat forgetful. To be frank, if it were not for the fact that these pages refer to events that actually took place, such alternations between amnesiac euphoria and dysphoric recall might seem like a device of the Narrator."

On the subject of "events that actually took place," pretty much all of the history (if not the stories behind the events) took place, and in fact, according to Eco, Simonini is the only fictional character in the entire novel. So, those European history Ph.D.s are really going to have a field day. For the rest of us, not so much fun, I have to say.

If it's not yet clear, I hated this book. I violently HATED this book! Reading it gave me PTSD. I know, you're wondering why the three stars? Well, as much as I hated it, I can't actually tell you it's bad. Eco is a brilliant, talented writer. I simply can't imagine why he chose to use his talent to tell this particular story. Here are some of the issues I had with the novel:

* The required knowledge of history was oppressive. Without that knowledge, the novel was almost impossible to follow and/or appreciate.
* The cast of thousands, all with multi-syllabic foreign names, was impossible to keep track of, especially as characters would reappear decades after their last appearance in the book.
* Despite the sheer amount of stuff that happens within these pages, the story moves at what, for me, was an excruciatingly slow pace. I'm not actually sure how Eco managed that.
* Not only is the central character a truly awful human being, there really is no one to like or care about much in the book.
* While at first I was able to shrug off the anti-Semitic content of the novel, after 464 pages of the most vile garbage imaginable, it really, really got to me. As a Jew of European descent, no matter how ridiculous and over-the-top the hatred was (from all characters, not just Simonini), I know that everything Eco wrote was very reflective of the attitudes of the era. It made me ill. Make no mistake; I don't believe Mr. Eco is an anti-Semite. I just didn't need to read this hatred. It hurt me.

Umberto Eco is a great writer, but any way you chose to look at The Prague Cemetery, I don't believe to be among his strongest works, and it is certainly not one of his more accessible titles. Despite Mr. Eco's talent, I can't recommend this book to anyone. And it'll be a long time before I decide to read him again.
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LibraryThing member AshRyan
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member justine28
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member judithrs
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
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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.
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Original language

Italian

Original publication date

2010 (original Italian)

ISBN

0547577531
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