The Prague Cemetery

The Prague Cemetery

Book - 2011
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"19th-century Europe--from Turin to Prague to Paris--abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious. Jesuits plot against Freemasons. In Italy, republicans strangle priests with their own intestines. In France, during the Paris Commune, people eat mice, plan bombings and rebellions in the streets, and celebrate Black Masses. Every nation has its own secret service, perpetrating conspiracies and even massacres. There are false beards, false lawyers, false wills, even false deaths. From the Dreyfus Affair to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Jews are blamed for everything. One man connects each of these threads into a massive crazy-quilt conspiracy within conspiracies. Here, he confesses all, thanks to Umberto Eco's ingenious imagination--a thrill-ride through the underbelly of actual, world-shattering events. "-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.
Edition: 1st American ed.
ISBN: 9780547577531
Characteristics: viii, 444 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Additional Contributors: Dixon, Richard


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Jan 04, 2019

Boring, repetitive, and heavy… Very disappointing.

Dec 12, 2018

Eco seems to be following a trend I've noticed in some of my other favourite authors: as they get older, the books get shorter and the vision more focused. If you don't want to read a book with a less than likeable narrator, steer clear of this one, but don't think that Eco is voicing his own opinions. As usual, Eco is writing fiction that reflects his current literary preoccupation--in this case, with Dumas and the other french writers of serialized novels. I was at first nonplussed, but it drew me in.

May 08, 2018

I picked up the book because it was on display in the "customer favourites area". I only made it to page 13 where the narrator was disgustingly bashing his third religion/country. It's hateful. Maybe it gets better, but you have to slog through a lot on negativity and hate to find out.

Jan 21, 2018

A great historical mystery populated with real characters from history that integrates many subjects including conspiracy theories, freemasonry, devil worship, hoaxes, etc. Very well written and hard to put down once you start.

SCL_Justin Jul 20, 2017

Reading Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery

The main characters (hard to call them protagonists what with their hateful ideologies) of Eco's The Prague Cemetery are a priest and a forger who makes his living making documents to legitimize shady dealings both financial and political in Piedmont and then Paris.

There’s an interesting triple narration to the book. There’s a narrator plus those two characters who write diary entries to each other trying to determine which of them is Tyler Durden. There are murders and secret meetings and lots of European intrigue and the tracts that would eventually become the Protocols of Elders of Zion (the anti-Semitic tracts that found their way all over Europe influencing at least one failed painter in the twentieth century).

Also, a note: in ebook form this story felt odd. The lack of physicality made a weird mismatch in reading this tale of creating documents. I felt like I should be sifting through papers, not tapping through pages. I'd recommend a physical copy.

Dec 01, 2015

I was going to read this but decided not to after reading previous comments, more nays than yays in other words.

Dec 03, 2014

Eco here creates one of the most repellant protagonists that I have read, and puts him on display for examination. The thing that is worse is that, while his character, Simonini, is a fictional creation, the rest of the characters in the book are historical figures who share the hatreds that make Simonini so appalling.
Briefly, the novel is the story of the forger who created the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the Czarist secret service. A thorough-going anti-Semite who also hates women and just about everyone else, he is an amoral sociopath who grew up with his anti-Semitic grandfather in Turin, may have had some nationalistic ideals in the Italian Risorgimento, but found any ideals he might have had undermined by corrupt employers, secret service agents and politicians. In addition to creating several of the major forgeries of the nineteenth century (one reviewer cleverly calls him the Forest Gump of anti-Semitism), he commits several murders and mass-murders and has many people imprisoned in Devil’s Island. In all of this, he inhabits a historical world of duplicity, betrayal, opportunism and genuine nastiness.
Eco shows all of this to illustrate the vile circumstances that produced the Protocols and other historical fictions. He warns the reader that this is a nasty character by introducing him with a long rant in chapter one against Jews, Germans, French, Italians, Jesuits, and women. And he ends the book with Simonini smirking that he has succeeded in setting in motion a campaign to exterminate Jews. The book points to important themes about the use of false stories to justify nationalist and ethnic campaigns, which are highly relevant today. The portrait of the underworld of nineteenth-century politics is as vivid and memorable as Dickens’ portraits of industrial England.
Eco lightens things up with some black humour and cynical observations that have a crystal clarity about what people will believe.
But the novel fails on some key points. First, the story doesn’t really hold together as a novel. The characters are grotesque caricatures, never humans with depth. I think that readers will feel nothing for them but revulsion. The story flits about briefly touching on many incidents but they remain sketchy. What details Eco presents are atmospheric, but only a background while the foreground remains vague.
And I’m not sure how to interpret Simonini’s split personality. Clearly he has a diseased mind, which allows him to forget one part of himself and occupy another personality. When he realizes that this is happening, he writes his journals – the novel itself – and fills in details in his other personality. He finally sees what he is doing in a psychological crisis bringing together his fear of sex, his misogyny and his anti-Semitism. But this seems to let him off too easily. Are the horrors of history to be reduced to some shady operators taking advantage of one man’s psychological illness? Or does his internal antagonism somehow represent the opposing forces in historical fact and fiction?
I think Eco wants to point to the difficulty of understanding history unless you recognize that historical documents are produced in circumstances where not even their creators really know what they are doing. All are suspect, and history must be seen as a matter of interpretation and point of view. The meaning of a document or a message lies not only on its surface, but also on its context. The Protocols (and who knows what other historical stories) are the product of a mentally ill forger working for secret agents with an agenda based on specific tactical objectives, often opposed to each other.
So while the book creates a memorable picture of a historical past that is relevant today, it is weak as a novel. I don’t mind having to spend some time in this repugnant milieu, but I want it to work better as an engaging story.

DianneMorin Aug 08, 2013

Not one of Eco's best. Too many historical references in too many countries to keep the reader on track. I struggled to finish this book.

yuriytrach May 21, 2013

I just read a book The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco I took from Richmond Hill Library. Under disguise of fiction story told by a person who hates Jews, book inspires hatred to Jewish nation. I am ashamed to find anti-Semitic book on shelves of Richmond Hill Library.

diesellibrarian Dec 24, 2012

There is little doubt that this book is a masterpiece of modern literature - but it is certainly distasteful in parts to the modern reader. It is shot through with xenophobia and especially an unvarnished antisemitism that may have been more accepted in the late 1800s but now feels very uncomfortable. The innovative narrative structure is as non-linear as the dark alleyways and sewers where the protagonist(s) shuffle and hide. Eco ties a fictional common thread between several historical documents, showing how a single self-serving forger-cum-spy had his hand in almost every single major political, religious, and social development that touched France and western Europe in the last half of the 19th century. A challenging read that explodes from the page like gunpowder.

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