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The Prague Cemetery Hardcover – 3 Nov 2011

2.9 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker; 1st Edition 1st Printing edition (3 Nov. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846554918
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846554919
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 274,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"[This] magnificent new novel... marks a return to the heady mixture of absorbing ideas and down-and-dirty historical detail that made The Name of the Rose such an international bestseller in the 1980's." (Adam Lively Sunday Times)

"Eco's most accessible novel since The Name of the Rose, a temptingly complex tale of 19th-century plots and conspiracies, and of an evil genius who may be behind them all." (Sunday Times)

"Erudite and pop, sinister and passionate... A work destined to become a classic." (La Repubblica)

"An extremely readable narrative of betrayal, terrorism, murder. chilling." (Daily Telegraph)

"This is a great mystery novel about paranoia, prejudice and forgery... We gain access to a world of city streets, strange anecdotes, gourmet menus, and conspiratorial minds... Eco's best novel since The Name of the Rose." (Independent)

From the Inside Flap

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.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format: Hardcover
There are three points mentioned by many other reviewers on this site which I would also like to address:

1) The main character.
There can be no doubt about it, Simonini is just about as hateful, craven, and ignorant a monster as you will come across in literature. I sincerely hope that you will find it impossible to identify with him. So most of the joy you will get from this character is likely to stem from the subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) giveaways through which Simonini betrays the profoundness of his stupidity, even of his madness.

2) The historical setting
Yes, this is set in the nineteenth century, largely in France and Italy, and an interest in what took place in that period culturally and politically is probably necessary to get into this novel. This is partly because the book suffers from a severe lack of plot and development - there is no mystery, nothing to be found out, no development of character. Simonini forges documents and is involved in other criminal activities, we know that from the start, and that is what he does right up until the end. The narrative ploy around the identity of Abbé Dalla Piccola is resolved in a way that is not exactly a let-down, but is also far from being a twist.

So what you are dealing with is in fact a series of episodes, loosely connected through the motif of conspiracy. I did not recognise many of the battles and political allusions, bar the Dreyfus affair, with which I am somewhat familiar. So for me, what I most connected to was how Eco weaves into his fiction allusions to the literary world, both that contemporary to his story and that not (thus for instance, the references to Léo Taxil contain anachronistic allusions to James Joyce).
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Simonini, Eco's anti-hero, is the most remarkable invention of the creative mind. This misanthrope, this misogynist, this anti-semite, anti-Jesuit, anti-masonic, anti-everybody but himself, is the most despicable person to "grace" the pages of the novel.
He is a forger, lier, cheat and betrayer of friends. He is so awful that at times he can't live with himself and adopts an alta-ego as a priest, at least that's my reading of this complex and intriguing story. He is so awful, that like the animated cartoon "Despicable me", you end up laughing at his cunning and his psychopathy. This is Eco at his best, weaving his fictional ant-hero into the weft of true historical events that include the genesis of the infamous forgery "The protocols of the elders of Zion", that is still on sale in a bookstore not far from you. Jews might find the constant anti-semitic rant put into Simonini's mouth, uncomfortable to stomach but do not despair, filth comes out of sewers and Simonini's mouth is a sewer.
His one saving grace is his gastronomic tastes and the book is scattered with details of mouth watering recipes and menus. Somehow Eco makes these Epicurean punctuations extremely funny as a counter-point to the sheer nastiness of the mouth that gorges on the food described.
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Format: Hardcover
(As extracted from my Amazon review of the Italian original text Il Cimitero Di Praga)

The story tells of a crook with obscure intentions who, according to the author himself, is going to become the "most cynical and nasty character of all Literature".
In order to serve statesmen, secret services, ministers and police, this enigmatic figure travels around Europe among conspiracies, political intrigues and revolutions.

So, there's no lack of ingredients on Eco's part when narrating this enticing story, built like a 19th century feuilleton, mixing the depths of a classic novel with the elaborate plots of a chilling thriller, the lot enriched with disquieting illustrations (we shouldn't forget that Eco is an emeritus professor of Semiotics - cf. inter alia, his A Theory of Semiotics).

One important point: bar the main character, all other interpreters of this novel are real and have done what they have done. Moreover, even the main character does things that have actually occurred, except that he does them in excess and that they probably have been done by diverse people.

Eco's magic, however, makes it so that, between secret agents, corrupt police, traitors, felon officers and sinful clerics, the only invented character of his book ultimately appears to be the most real of them all.

Eco brilliantly succeeds in painting a suggestive picture d'époque, emotionally involving us in a rich narrative full of surprises and in an exhilarating language that only a semiologist like him could produce. Precisely because of this, be warned: as for all of Eco's books, this too is not an easy read, and has a few psychological complexities... Not all you see on the page is actually there!
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed learning some of the turbulent history of Italy and France from this intriguing novel. In this story we retrace the life of a man who has been mixed up in spying and deception, including the forging of documents, for his whole life; in fact it was his primary source of income.

Eco uses the same tool he used in The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, i.e. the experience of an amnesiac recovering his memory, to unfold the history leading up to the time when the narrator is telling his tale. Captain Simon Simonini is not the most pleasant of men as is attested early in the book when he lambasts, in the most explicit of terms, his distaste of firstly Jews, then the Germans, next the French, the Italians, the Catholic Church (especially Jesuits), and Freemasons. At one point he concludes that Jesuits are merely Masons dressed as women. At several points in the story he expresses his total distaste of all things female. It appears there is no-one in the world he likes.

His one saving grace is his delight in good food, and we are treated to descriptions of some delicious meals, and even a couple of recipes.

Eco's shrewd observations and use of language provide the reader with some great phrases and generalised descriptions, all this adding to the flavour of the book and helping to demonstrate the way Simonini's mind works.

The Prague Cemetery is about governments wanting to manipulate groups of people, and to steer public opinion in a direction that leaves the politicians, or should I say the people in power, free to build up their own position and wealth. In particular, Eco deals with the deliberate ploy to instil hatred of Jews around the world.
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