I’m ashamed to admit that before I came across a recommendation for The Prague Cemetery, I had never heard of its author Umberto Eco. I thought I was the first on this bandwagon and I looked forward to dropping his name into conversation without others knowing who I was talking about.
That lasted until I talked to my friend Meghan about my struggle to get through it and she responded with “Yeah, his books are usually slow to start.”
When I first read about The Prague Cemetery, it sounded so sinister and creepy. The idea behind the book is that all the crazy messed up things that happened in Europe in the 19th century, was actually all due to one person. All the wars, secret murders, corrupt leaders – all of it stemmed from this one brilliant person, pulling the right strings.
Something was missed in the execution, according to me anyway. It was translated from the original Italian and maybe this work was the victim of a poor translation. I just struggled to get into it and more than once was tempted to abandon the whole project. I’m happy that I didn’t but only because I now have the first book of 2012 under my belt!
The Prague Cemetery starts out with the narrator reading over the shoulder of this old man, who turns out to be the that is responsible for all the evil happening in Europe over the past 50 years. And then the narrator disappears, leaving the story telling to the old man and then his…alter ego?
See the old man, Simonini, starts to record his thoughts in his journal. And then he starts getting confused, waking up in a different apartment, which is when his alter ego, Dalla Piccola, takes over and fills in the blanks. Or tries to. You’re left wondering what’s going on: Who is this Dalla Piccola? Why does he know so much about Simonini?
It’s actually really confusing, or maybe I missed something. I flatter myself that I’m intelligent, have a fairly good grasp on European history and I got completely lost in all the names of people or places that I wasn’t familiar with. That and the endless descriptions of all the foods that the old man loved to eat when he was younger.
It started to kind of pick up when Simonini starts to recount his youth, his grandfather, his father, the army, and the origins of his hatred of the Jews. That was another thing. It was super, unapologetically anti-Semitic and I was uncomfortable with that. I realize that it is fiction but something about the angry tone that he uses made me feel like maybe parts of this ire weren’t fiction after all. Maybe Eco is just that good but it certainly didn’t make me connect with the characters anymore.
Through all of the 447 pages, I struggled to slog through. Portions seemed to pick up and then the story would lose me again so much so that whole pages would go by and I would have retained nothing.
Not the way that I would have chosen to start my 2012 reading goal, but I guess it can only get better from here? That or something has happened to my, normally, flawless book taste.