I finished reading The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco. My initial thoughts cover some of the basics about the book. I have very strongly mixed feelings about this book, about the story, but not about the writing. Umberto Eco is a fine storyteller and wordsmith, making reading his writing easy. I found an interview in The Paris Review where he says it usually takes him 6 years to write a novel, so he obviously spends a lot of time perfecting his prose.
He admits that the main character he’s created, Simonini, is despicable and hateful. Writing such a character can have adverse effects on the author. I know that when I’m writing a sad or angry scene, I often feel those emotions to the point that I act out toward others with those feelings still lingering inside. Imagining being in that character’s persona for years is rather unnerving. Simonini is not the kind of person I’d even want to have a conversation with, to be honest.
This entire story and the characters in it—all but Simonini is a historical figure—are disturbing on too many levels for my taste. Naturally, I wondered if my reaction was what the author intended, or if I had misread his story in some way. But after finding a few other reviews, no, I think not.
According to the New York Times review of it, the very real document that forms the basis of this historical episode was “a forgery represented as the genuine minutes from a secret meeting of Jewish leaders conspiring for world domination, motivated by an unnatural will to power and an unappeasable hatred of Gentiles.” Again, the document was (and is) not real minutes of any meeting but there were players who used it to their own ends, including Adolf Hitler and Kaiser Wilhem II. I came away from reading the story with such a bad taste in my mouth… Looking back on its contents from the 21st century to the 19th century, and to this day apparently it’s still selling, it’s revolting that the claims included as truth are lies. Lies intended to persuade people toward a desired and deadly outcome.
The hate and venom laced throughout this book made it very difficult to finish. I did so only so I could tell you, my lovely readers, about my impression of it. Honestly, I do not recommend it because it’s so full of lies, manipulation of others, dishonesty and subterfuge, it’s almost unbelievable. But the fact that it’s founded on an historical episode in human history…it’s depressing.
In a The Guardian review, reviewer Betsy Reed worries about the impact this story might have on “credulous readers” who miss the fact that Eco is employing “postmodern irony” in his storytelling. She even states, “The chief rabbi of Rome has expressed alarm about the violence of Simonini’s hatred, and a review in the Vatican newspaper worried about the zest with which the novel revives injurious stereotypes.” The anti-Semitism and misogyny throughout made it hard to read for me. There are some very dark, violent scenes as well.
Overall, the material that is the foundation of this book, both the text and the accompanying illustrations, left me wondering about the reason, the motivation, the intent behind the author writing the story. I still don’t know with any certainty. But I do know I won’t be reading more of his work if they’re like this in any way.
I’m going to take a couple weeks away from blogging about historical fiction in order to finish reading/researching for my next historical novel. I only have so much time to read and spend at the archives in the library, after all! I’ll blog about some other aspects of writerly life, perhaps even some of my research tidbits, in the meantime.
I hope you find a good book to read, perhaps even the one mentioned below. Happy reading!
P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!
Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.
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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