Eco’s latest takes as its focal point the creation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the infamous and discredited document used by anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists everywhere as proof of a worldwide Jewish cabal. His fictional main character, Simone Simonini, is a spy, a forger, a murderer, and a misanthrope, whose deep hatred of the Jews (for starters) drives him to cobble together the Protocols from the actual texts of historical figures like Maurice Joly, Abbé Augustin Barruel, and Léo Taxil. Complicating matters is Simonini’s gradual realization that he is suffering from a split personality, dividing his time between his conspiratorial acts as the self-anointed “Captain” Simonini and as a suspicious priest, Abbé Dalla Piccola. What follows is an overstuffed, intriguing, hilarious, and frustrating glimpse into the turbulent power struggles of late 19th-century Europe and the imagined path to one of the most notorious documents of the early 20th century. Readers of Eco’s oeuvre will no doubt be familiar with, and most likely welcome as a challenge, the author’s insistence on cluttering his narrative with what can only be characterized as intellectual braggadocio. Such extemporaneous information certainly adds to the sense of place and the awareness of being told a tale by a master, but the narrative gets lost in the details. While no one expects Dan Brown simplicity from Eco, his desire to impress—and demand so much of—his readers sometimes works against his best intentions. Illus. (Nov. 8)
"[Eco's] latest takes that longtime thriller darling, the conspiracy theory, and turns it into something grander...Sold to 40 countries and said to be controversial; a speed-read with smarts." -- Library Journal, Pre-Pub Alert, "My Picks"
"A whirlwind tour of conspiracy and political intrigue...this dark tale is delightfully embellished with sophisticated and playful commentary on, among other things, Freud, metafiction, and the challenges of historiography." -- Booklist
"Intriguing, hilarious....a tale by a master." -- Publishers Weekly boxed review "He's got a humdinger in this new high-level whodunit...a perplexing, multilayered, attention-holding mystery." -- Kirkus, starred "I find this book fascinating, perhaps the best Eco has written in years. Eco takes on conspiracy theories in the feverish political activism of nineteenth-century Europe--freemasonry, the Italian Risorgimento, the Paris Commune, and above all the forgery of the slanderous The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. What if there were a single mastermind behind all these conspiracies? It's already a bestseller in Italy, and I can't get enough of it!" -- Huffington Post "The Prague Cemetery is vintage Eco….Eco, the star bookworm of our times, has used his genius for excavating libraries to construct a semifictional narrative of how The Protocols might have evolved….The Prague Cemetery is at once entertainment, education, and warning. As usual, Eco has enjoyed himself. The narrative is vivid, shocking, sometimes baffling. It’s loaded ….with learned Eco disquisitions on bomb-making, the Paris sewers, the history of the Commune, the taxonomical distinctions between ladies on the game (grisettes, cocottes, biches, lorettes, and courtesans), early theories of brain function, and so forth. But as a genealogy showing how The Protocols evolved from the nightmares bequeathed to Europe by medieval heresy-hunting (the subject of The Name of the Rose), the book is a triumph." -- New York Review of Books
In late 19th-century Paris, Captain Simonini suspects that he's sharing his apartment with a certain Abbé Dalla Piccola—or is the abbé merely an alter ego helping him recall a story he'd rather forget? As Simonini works through his past (pretty much Europe's as well) we learn of a childhood shaped by hatred—his grandfather of the Jews, his Carbonari father of the Jesuits—and of the notary who plundered the family fortune, compelling young Simonini to work in his office. Beating his employer at his own game, Simonini quickly enters a career of betraying various sides to various bidders and eventually crafts a tale about rabbis plotting in the Prague cemetery that foreshadows the Protocols of Zion. By telling the story of this behind-the-scenes opportunist, Eco shows how easily entrenched prejudice can be exploited, distracting from cold, hard truth. VERDICT This is fascinating stuff, but there's such a thick impasto of historic detail that we sometimes miss the chill revulsion such revelations should arouse; what makes Eco sparkle (see Foucault's Pendulum, for instance) is how he uses ideas, not facts. But the serious minded will of course want to read and debate. [See Prepub Alert, 5/9/11.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Eco (The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, 2005, etc.) doffs his scholarly gown and dons his trench coat for another bracing--and controversial--mystery. Semiotician, medievalist and linguist, Eco delights in secret codes, cabals and conspiracy theories. He's got a humdinger in this new high-level whodunit, which features a fictional fellow--Simone Simonini by name--who wanders, darkly, throughout a late-19th-century Europe packed with very real people. Simonini, 67 years old when we meet him in 1897, is detestable. He's a study in suburban prejudices, among them a virulent strain of anti-Semitism, though, to be fair, he's got something bad to say about just about everyone: The Jew, he grumbles, is "as vain as a Spaniard, ignorant as a Croat, greedy as a Levantine, ungrateful as a Maltese, insolent as a Gypsy, dirty as an Englishman, unctuous as a Kalmyk, imperious as a Prussian and as slanderous as anyone from Asti." Did he leave out the Germans? No, they smell bad owing to a surfeit of beer and pork sausage. No one evades Simonini's withering glare, but it's the Jews he's really after, working farragos and guiles to stir up hatred against him through manufactured events up to and including the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that tract that gave the Nazis so much fuel for their fires. In an oddball but bravado performance, Eco makes Simonini--who doesn't like Freemasons or Jesuits either--many things: a forger, a master of disguise, a secret agent and double agent, a shadowy presence who's up to more than we'll ever know, and on top of all that quite a good cook--there are recipes for fine dishes tucked inside these pages, and recipes for bombs, too. Simonini also keeps good and interesting company, hanging out with Sigmund Freud here, crossing paths with Dumas and Garibaldi and Captain Dreyfus there, and otherwise enjoying the freedom of the continent, as if unstoppable and inevitable. What does it all add up to? An indictment of the old Europe, for one thing, and a perplexing, multilayered, attention-holding mystery. Expect it to find many readers.