The Prague Cemetary

Published December 8, 2012 by myliteraryleanings

the prague cemetery coverReview of The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

Overview from Nineteenth-century Europe—from Turin to Prague to Paris—abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious. Jesuits plot against Freemasons. Italian republicans strangle priests with their own intestines. French criminals plan bombings by day and celebrate Black Masses at night. Every nation has its own secret service, perpetrating forgeries, plots, and massacres. Conspiracies rule history. From the unification of Italy to the Paris Commune to the Dreyfus Affair to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Europe is in tumult and everyone needs a scapegoat. But what if, behind all of these conspiracies, both real and imagined, lay one lone man? What if that evil genius created the world’s most infamous document?

Umberto Eco takes his readers on a remarkable journey through the underbelly of world-shattering events. Here is Eco at his most exciting, a book immediately hailed as a masterpiece.

My Review:

The Prague Cemetery was not at all what I expected it to be. The last book I read by Umberto Eco was The Name of the Rose which had a totally different plot line. It was a medieval murder mystery while The Prague Cemetery takes place in a completely different time period and although it is something of a mystery, this mystery is far more bizarre than his previous work. In fact, I am having some difficulty in explaining the plot myself so I hope you’ll avail yourself of the above description for that.

I could begin with the main character but he too is something of a mystery. He grows up during the events of the Italian period known as the Risorgimento, known in English as the Unification. Most people probably don’t know that Italy as a country is younger even than the USA. It didn’t officially exist until the 1800’s. And during this period, the future of the country seemed to be up for grabs.

Also during this period, our main character grows up, primarily in the care of an antisemitic grandfather. His father dies fighting to make Italy a republic but not before also instilling in him a deep distrust of the Jesuits and the Catholic Church in general. These two things serve him well in his future occupation as forger.

He falls into this occupation almost as an afterthought when his inheritance is stolen from him by his future employers’ cunning. It is only then that he discovers that the man had been dealing in forging documents based solely on the words of his clients who have conveniently “lost” whatever documents they had to prove their claims.

Our good Captain Simonini (or perhaps not so good) gradually became more and more adept at the art of forgery as well as the art of politics. Eventually he got his revenge and sold out his own boss, going into business for himself.

His lifetime, according his diary, seems to have been spent largely on earning money by secretly working for various authorities forging documents and convincing some rather naïve innocents to betray themselves before he invents the story of the Prague Cemetery, his greatest antisemitic work to date. Before he can stop it, it begins to take on a life of its own in his never-ending quest to convince the rest of Europe that the world would be in a better place if there were no Jews or Masons.

The rest of his time is spent trying to figure out if he is a split personality. The other man being a clergyman by the name of Abbe Dalla Piccola whose handwriting, distinctly different from his own, is found in the Captain’s diary from time to time.

If he is a different person, Simonini finds it odd that he knows so much about him while he remembers very little about Dalla Piccola. And while this mystery deepens, Simonini’s other problems, such as the bodies that appear in the sewer underneath his residence, only increase.

In the end, he must uncover the truth before his deceptions are exposed and deal with his long-standing prejudices before it is too late. If I cared more about him, I might have been more anxious for him to do just that. However, I found that the more I got to know him, the less I liked him.

Still this book had an entertaining story even if it did seem a little far-fetched. For this reason I am recommending it.

Contains: some nudity, antisemitism, and satanic ritual as well as violence.

Below is the link for the something of a trailer for the book. Sorry that I could not paste it but ever since Word Press has changed some of its features I haven’t been able to figure out how to upload videos anymore. If anyone knows, can you please inform me?


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