One thing I can tell you is that my selection of titles for the Historical Fiction Around the World series is by author name and not by subject matter. The authors came recommended, sometimes along with a title or two. I’ve tried to ensure that all of the authors are not born and raised in the USA (though if you’ve been reading my series you’ll know I haven’t always succeeded). Actually, it’s quite fascinating to me how many of them were born elsewhere but then they and their families moved to the United States when the author was a child. So the author is then raised and educated in the US. I really am trying to read historical fiction written by authors from other countries. One good indicator is if the work had to be translated into English, like this week’s book, The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco.
Let’s take a bird’s eye view of the book before we dive into any details, shall we? I’m reading a hardback of the story published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. The story, comprising 437 pages, is set in 19th-century Europe with the opening date of March 24, 1897. Supporting material includes what is purported to be a plot summary under the title “Useless Learned Explanations” followed by snippets of “Later Events.” In this edition, there are even many pen-and-ink sketches illustrating the people and events within its pages. Not too many novels come with illustrations, do they?
Why do I point this out to you? Because the amount of investment by the publisher points to a belief in the story’s merits because they wouldn’t invest in something they didn’t feel would make them money in return. Not only did they spend money on editing and production of the book, but also of reproducing the many images throughout. So even if I might—and I’m not saying this—not like the book, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth reading in some way or another. So with that said, let’s take a bit of a closer look at the story.
Mr. Eco was born in Alessandria, Italy, and at the time of the publication of this book (2010) lives in Milan. The story was translated by Richard Dixon into English. (As a brief but meaningful aside, note that the translator credit is on the copyright page in the front matter of the book. Richard’s name doesn’t appear on the cover as is becoming the current practice to recognize the translator’s efforts and contribution to making the work accessible to a larger audience of readers.) The fact the book needed to be translated tells me that Umberto most likely speaks Italian, not English. His story also includes many phrases in other languages than English, as well. Mostly related to street/place names and foods/beverages. As I mentioned when I was reading The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, sprinkling in such “foreign” phrases can be done for various reasons. (For the wrap-up of my thoughts on her book, click here.) I think in the case of The Prague Cemetery, the characters using these references are displaying their worldliness and education. Perhaps. But I’ll withhold judgement on that until I’ve finished reading the story.
I’ve read to page 170, so not quite halfway through this convoluted tale. I say convoluted because it’s fraught with characters who do not understand what is happening around them. They think they do, and then find out they were wrong. Which of course creates a sense of uncertainty for the reader since the narrator(s) can’t be reliable as a result of their inability to tell what is fact and what is misdirection. It’s a rather masterful technique Umberto is employing in the story, to be honest. I’m left feeling uneasy, doubting everything the Narrator tells me since he may or may not be right. Or half of each? I found myself wondering, why am I reading this if nobody knows what’s going on? Maybe that’s Umberto’s point…? We’ll see.
One aspect of the story I find delightful is the insertion of the characters’ review of the menus at various restaurants and other establishments, sometimes even including preparation details. A bit of comic relief and substance amidst the stew of conspiracy theories and misinformation swirling through the tale. Or…is even that misinformation for the unwary reader? Hmm…
I invite you to pick up a copy of the book and read along with me. Let’s compare notes next week! Until then, Happy Reading!
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In the spring of 2014, my first romance released! That story is Undying Love (Secrets of Roseville #1).
Love is never lost; it haunts the heart…
An unsuspecting Southern town. Ghosts. Witchcraft. Skeletons in the closet. Discover the Secrets of Roseville in this five book series… Undying Love, Haunted Melody, The Touchstone of Raven Hollow, Veiled Visions of Love, and Charmed Against All Odds!
She lost everything but only his love can save her…
When Meredith Reed inherits graceful Twin Oaks, an historic plantation meant for a large family although hers no longer exists, she has some ideas for its future: tear it down; bulldoze it; burn it. Max Chandler, a historic property preservation lawyer, believes Twin Oaks is the perfect historic site, except, perhaps, for the Civil War era ghosts in residence and the attractive, misguided new owner. Will Meredith’s grief destroy her heart and home or will she listen to what the Lady in Blue is trying to teach her?
(Updated and revised edition; originally published in 2014 as Traces.)
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