Saturday, December 17, 2011
Another Masterpiece by Umberto Eco: Review of "The Prague Cemetery"
Umberto Eco is a professor of Semiotics at the University of Bologne, and a brilliant novelist and essayist. I consider myself to be reasonably well-educated, but I must confess that I needed to look up "semiotics" to fully understand what this academic discipline is all about. In brief, it is a branch of philosophy/logic that examines how we use symbols and signs to create order and meaning - in our own minds and in our communication with others. Learning that truth helped me to see Eco's novels in a new light; he explores the manifold uses of symbolism in a unique way in each of his works of fiction
In the "The Prague Cemetery," he offers up a broadly drawn satire that pokes fun at all kinds of racism and prejudices. He also demonstrates our propensity to make order of the world by making lists; he seasons almost each page with some sort of list - often a list of ingredients that his gastronomic characters have ingested at a sumptuous Paris eatery.
In this latest novel, he limns a strange tale that weaves together historical characters, like Sigmund Freud, Garibaldi, Napoleon III, operating in fictitious relationships and dialogues. He illuminates in harsh spotlights historical conspiracy theories that have the Freemasons, the Jesuits, the Jews conspiring - sometimes separately and at other times in combination - to rule the world. The historical contexts include a once-in-a-century secret meeting of rabbis in a Prague cemetery, and the long struggle to unite the various segments of Italy into a united nation.
The story is told through the dual voices of a multiple personality protagonist. Eco's way of thinking and writing may be an acquired taste, but I have acquired the taste with great gusto.