As readers of this blog might know, I am a crazy fan of Umberto Eco books. However, I do agree that he gets carried away by all that knowledge of history of medieval Europe he has gathered, that his books are littered with so many names, places and historical incidences that it is easy to get lost in the history and lose the plot. The trick to getting over these aspects of his books are to read it in broad strokes and not pay attention to the minute details*. You don’t need the minute details to appreciate the story, but if you don’t get the broad picture, you loose the beauty of the plot.
I got this book almost 3 years ago very soon after it was released, as a gift from my sister to her friend. I was the postman in this long distance love affair :/ I couldn’t meet the friend for the longest time and during that time there were days when the only way to pass the heat-soaked afternoons was to curl up with a good book. Having an Eco book within arm’s reach was too much of a temptation for me and I succumbed. Of course Fate intervened and the very next day the friend showed up to claim her gift and off it went leaving me hanging. Fate was not entirely cruel, however, as it packed the remaining days of my trip with too much activity for me to miss the book and 3 years later, I finally managed to get my hands on it again and this time read it through!
I am sure all of us are aware of the Protocols of the Elders of the Zion and the role it played in the greatest unconscionable act of ethnic cleansing that modern Europe witnessed i.e. the Holocaust. The Prague Cemetery is the author’s imagination of how that book came into existence**. Fictitious characters are cleverly intertwined with actual historical ones that it is impossible to know where reality ends and imagination begins. Eco does with characters what fantasy writers do with places. The grandfather of the protagonist and the protagonist himself are to The Prague Cemetery what Charring Cross road and Diagon Alley are to the Harry Potter series. The weave is so intricate and seamless that I had to go to Wiki to figure out who is real and who isn’t.
Eco grips you right off the bat when he starts the book with the protagonist describing his opinion of every single ethnic/cultural group native to Europe mainly culled from his grandfather. And what an opinion it is for sure! Every single group, be they Italian, German, French, Hebrew,etc., is described in the most ribald terms possible, stripped apart and set up on the pillory to be laughed at or despised according to the reader’s temperament. And what he has the protagonist say about the different religious sects of both Christianity and Judaism is a brilliant essay on the psyche of a bigot! Only of course he is not so much a bigot as an equal opportunity hater. Nevertheless, it sets the tone of the book and so sets the precedent for what comes in the end, i.e. the Protocols of the Elders of the Zion.
Like all Eco books, the middle gets a little too involved and heavy, but in this case it still is interesting because of the end. Eco weaves his magic in his inimitable style and you get the feeling of being propelled through history as irresistibly as the “author” of the conspiracy. There is no end to intrigue and plots within plots and as usual I am in awe of how he manages to hold all the strings, allowing them to get entangled in some places but always unravelling them so effortlessly as to make it seem almost magical.
There are of course shades of The Focoult’s Pendulum in this, but the end is not as ironic. At the end of this book, I am more inclined to believe Eco’s version as real than perhaps what “truth” might actually turn out to be. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it is impossible to review this book without giving away the crux of the matter! So on that note, I will conclude by merely requesting all of you to go read the book :)
* unless of course the minute historical details are the reason you read the book in which case, screw the plot!
** this is all I am going to say about the details in the story. If you want more, go read it :/