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The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

The Prague Cemetery (original 2010; edition 2011)

by Umberto Eco, Richard Dixon (Translator)

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2,077None3,215 (3.29)100
Title:The Prague Cemetery
Authors:Umberto Eco
Other authors:Richard Dixon (Translator)
Info:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade (2011), Edition: None, Hardcover, 464 pages
Collections:Your library, E-books
Tags:Anti-semitism, Freemasons, Italian unification

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The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (2010)


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English (57)  Spanish (12)  Dutch (8)  French (6)  Italian (4)  German (3)  Catalan (1)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (94)
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
I hate not finishing a book, but life it too short, and there's too much to read, to waste time on the ones that just don't click. Its entirely possible that this is a wonderful book, but after 100 pages, it still fails to hook my imagination, and I'm finding it very tiresome to slog through. Another review mentions that it may be an issue of and Italian writer, writing for an Italian audience for whom the historical background is more familiar, and I'm willing to consider that as a source of the problem, but who knows? I have, previously, loved everything by Eco that I have read, so it is a shock to find this one so unreadable, for whatever reason.

I'm breaking up with this book. Umberto, its not you, its me.... ( )
1 vote duende | Feb 6, 2014 |
With a blurb the ends “But what if, behind all these conspiracies, lies just one man?” it is clear that this book is classic Eco. In this case the religious conspiracies revolve from accusations and counter-accusations against the Jews, the Catholics, the Socialists, and the Masons in the 19th Century. Set mostly in France, the novel follows Simonini, a forger of wills and seller of stolen hosts through the eyes of an unnamed narrator reading his diary and paraphrasing it, purportedly for our ease of understanding.

Simonini awakens at the start of the novel with amnesia, and starts the diary to collect his memories. Starting with his childhood and catching up to the time the diary was written, his history is described in parallel with his attempts to reconstruct the recent past. Initially Simonini appears a rabid anti-Semite although his disdain for both other nations and his own is almost equal, making me wonder if the anti-Semitism was real or a mask for a wider and more general misanthropy.

Slowly he rebuilds a history of creating fake documents to reveal secret conspiracies by first one group then another. Driven equally by the desire to make money and the fear of being punished by the governments he has duped, he is trapped in a spiral of ever-greater false conspiracies.

Moving from employer to employer, he creates an ever-wider cast of false personalities, linked only by a common love of good food. Interspersed into his diary are notes left by a priest, Abbé Dalla Piccola, who lives in a connected flat and also has amnesia. Although it is revealed almost immediately that Simonini has access to make-up and disguises and Dalla Piccola seems to have a better knowledge of Simonini’s private actions than he does, as the novel proceeds the reader’s automatic assumption that Dalla Piccola is merely character Simonini created is challenged.

Eco ends the novel with a short afterword stating that the events and people mentioned were real, apart from Simonini who was created by merging several real people. However his skill in describing Simonini’s creation of false narratives by merging existing documents and events made it seem to me like a knowing wink after a tall tale.

As well as other novel’s by Eco, especially [b:Foucault's Pendulum|17841|Foucault's Pendulum|Umberto Eco|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1328875033s/17841.jpg|11221066], the cynical but all to believable attempts of church and state to win hearts and minds through defaming opponents instead of providing a benefit reminded me strongly of Luther Blisset’s [b:Q|94034|Q|Luther Blissett|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1328874969s/94034.jpg|414]. ( )
  Tyrshundr | Feb 6, 2014 |
The Prague Cemetery is something like a more anti-heroic Fight Club set in late 19th-century Paris, using a diary framework to provide a thorough excavation of the self-dissociated central character. The Piedmontese Simone Simonini is as vile a creature as one can imagine, guilty of venal crimes that he sees through to their murderous conclusions, and of a great misdeed to bear fruit over succeeding generations. He is a double-crossing pseudo-spy, filled with misogyny, antisemitism, paranoia, and avarice. At one point, contemplating an author he has met, Simonini remarks, "I have been told that the great storytellers always portray themselves in their characters" (275). Such an adage invites application to the author of The Prague Cemetery himself, but why or how would Umberto Eco want to be compared to Simonini?

As a career forger who has been enlisted by the intelligence apparatuses of various powers, most often to fabricate "evidence" damning those they'd like to do away with, Simonini plagiarizes novels for his "historical" documents. Eco plagiarizes history for his novel. (He assures us that Simonini is the only fictional character of substance in the whole thing.) Eco's motives like Simonini's are didactic and propagandistic. Simonini wants to warn his readers about the Jews and their plots, Eco wants to warn us about antisemitism and its cultural conditions.

The fabrication of political scapegoats to suffer the outrages of authoritarian violence is not limited to the 20th-century antisemitic movements which are shown being incubated in this novel. Russian secret police have a part to play in The Prague Cemetery, and I would encourage those who read this book today to observe the persecution of gays and lesbians in Russia by means of cultural capital produced in America: the "family values" and anti-"homosexualist" rhetoric crafted by right-wing churches and think tanks. (Scott Lively is one of today's more obvious Simone Simoninis.)

Bereft of any nobler motivation, Simonini takes his chief enjoyment in life from food. The novel has occasional raptures of gastronomical detail, reminiscent of Huysmanns' diabolical 1890s novel La-Bas (which also includes--a clef--some of Eco's historical characters). A surprising but effective feature is an assortment of full-page illustrations from period engravings, at the rate of roughly one per chapter.

The Prague Cemetery does resume a number of themes from Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. But in this case, the seemingly more bizarre facts are even more authentic, and the moral upshot is more persuasive and important. Those who enjoy the historical elements of this story and don't mind adding a bit of whimsy to the incendiary past can continue on without diachronic interruption to Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day.
6 vote paradoxosalpha | Jan 24, 2014 |
The maelstrom of 19th century Europe sets the scene for Captain Simone Simonini, document forger and anti-Semite who participates in various revolutions, conspiracies and deadly plots of deception before penning his masterpiece, what will be known as the famously fictitious "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." It took me some time to adjust to the flow of unfamiliar Italian, French, German and Prussian secret service agents, politicians, revolutionaries and conspirators and locate Simonini's place in unfamiliar historical events. But with a little patience I came to enjoy the devious nature of the protagonist. Plots and conspiracies of Masons, Jews, Jesuits, Satanists, republicans, monarchists, and countless alleged alliances between these groups against one another propelled me through this book with surprising ease after the first few chapters. I particularly enjoyed the fabricated account of the converted Satanist, Diana, and the unscrupulous writer who took advantage of her obvious mental illness to publish books condemning the Masons and their alleged association with Satanists, all in the effort to attack perceived enemies of the Catholic Church, and the Jesuits, in particular. The same character, of course, produced scathing anti-clerical work only years before, but miraculously converted before revealing pathetic Diana to the curious French public! This complex subplot shines as an example of the underlying political, religious and historical complexities defining this work.

It probably would have helped me to read, or at least be familiar with "Protocols" before attempting this book. Even without this background knowledge, however, I had a blast reading it. Kudos to Umberto Eco, an author who intimidated me when I read some of his more scholarly work in college. "The Prague Cemetery" felt like the kind of smart read that he's been known to produce, but turned out to be a whole lot more fun. ( )
  NordicT | Nov 2, 2013 |
I am not much into reviewing these days, but for Umberto Eco’s “Prague Cemetery”, I’ll make an exception because it is an important and intelligent book.

The book starts as an ugly cartoon, with the main character Simone Simoni, (the most despicable character ever) ranting and spitting against Jews, Germans, Rosicrucians, Catholics and so on. Simoni lives at the end of the 19th century and is a master – forger, making fake documents on demand for any organization, secret or official, who wants to implicate, insult or attack any other organization, minority, nationality and so on. For heinous as he is, Simone has a lot of customers.

Most readers remain unconcerned and relaxed until they realize that while Simone is a fictional character, all others, victims and bad guys alike are real historic people. These things really happened. It gets really uncomfortable when we recognize the evil from our history books…the Dreyfuss affair for instance based on the Anti-Semitic – inspired false documents and later the protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fake document, quoted by a certain Adolph Hitler in his “Mein Kampf “ to scapegoat the Jewish community with the results we know…


There is much more in the book and it is strongly recommended, for after some time, Eco’s message even materializes in our daily life.

- Someone reminds me that Europe is an Islamic state. He shows a PowerPoint with statistics as a proof that there is a vast Muslim conspiracy out there to take over Europe
- Assange is a conspirator who wants to bring down democracies…
- In the journal I read, I am reminded that the US have secret documents that proof – without any doubt – that chemical weapons are used by the Syrian government. We are still waiting for the proofs that Iraq had WMD.

The 21th century is not that much different than the 19th after all ( )
6 vote Macumbeira | Oct 15, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
Eco’s other sly coup – a running feature in all of his fiction, from The Name of the Rose onwards – is to teasingly pretend that distant history can have no relevance to modern times while at the same time demonstrating just how urgent such ideas are.
Eco's mastery of the milieu is evident on every page of "The Prague Cemetery."
If the creation of Simone Simonini is meant to suggest that behind the credibility-straining history lurks a sick spirit compounded of equal parts self-serving cynicism and irrational malice, who can argue? And even if the best parts of “The Prague Cemetery” are those he did not invent, Eco is to be applauded for bringing this stranger-than-fiction truth vividly to life.
Eco’s 19th century shocker has an Italian, Captain Simonini, as the man responsible, the only fictional character in the book. The story involves Freemasons against Catholics, Garibaldi against the Bourbons, Russian spies, German double agents, murky murders, plotting prelates, black masses and orgies. If all this sounds like a richly sensational read, you couldn’t be more wrong.
added by Shortride | editDaily Mail, John Harding (Nov 17, 2011)
Simonini’s as disgraceful as they come, and those who feel the need to bond with a narrator will be instantly put off by this novel. But “The Prague Cemetery” isn’t trying to make us feel better about ourselves. It’s meant to remind us of the dangers of complacency and credulousness. It’s meant to be unsettling. And by that measure, it’s a huge success.

» Add other authors (29 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eco, Umbertoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Arenas Noguera, CarmeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dixon, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kangas, HelinäTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kroeber, BurkhartTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nordang, AstridTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Since these episodes are necessary, indeed form a central part of any historical account, we have included the execution of one hundred citizens hanged in the public square, two friars burned alive, and the appearance of a comet—all descriptions that are worth a hundred tournaments and have the merit of diverting the reader's mind as much as possible from the principal action.

—Carlo Tenca, La ca' dei cani, 1840
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A passerby on that gray morning in March 1897, crossing, at his own risk and peril, place Maubert, or the Maub, as it was known in criminal circles (formerly a center of university life in the Middle Ages, when students flocked there from the Faculty of Arts in Vicus Stramineus, or rue du Fouarre, and later a place of execution for apostles of free thought such as Étienne Dolet), would have found himself in one of the few spots in Paris spared from Baron Haussmann's devastations, amid a tangle of malodorous alleys, sliced in two by the course of the Bièvre, which still emerged here, flowing out from the bowels of the metropolis, where it had long been confined, before emptying feverish, gasping and verminous into the nearby Seine.
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Op grootse wijze neemt Umberto Eco in zijn nieuwe, grote roman De begraafplaats van Praag de misschien wel meest megalomane eeuw aller tijden onder handen: de negentiende eeuw. Plaatsen van handeling: Turijn, Palermo en Parijs.De geschriftvervalser Simone Simonini is een nauwkeurig observator van zijn eigen tijd. En hij ziet veel: een hysterische sataniste, een abt die twee keer sterft, lijken in een Parijs riool, jezuïeten die samenspannen tegen vrijmetselaars, vrijmetselaars en Mazzinianen die priesters wurgen met hun eigen darmen, de krombenige, aan artrose lijdende Italiaanse held Garibaldi, de bloedbaden tijdens de Parijse Commune van 1871 waar zelfs pasgeboren ratjes worden gegeten, onwelriekende kotten waar tussen de absintdampen bomexplosies en volksopstanden worden voorbereid, nepbaarden, zogenaamde notarissen, valse testamenten, diabolische broederschappen en zwarte missen. Simonini ziet veel, maar hij maakt nog veel meer mee, en bijna als vanzelf wordt hij steeds dieper betrokken in het complot dat zal leiden tot de lasterlijke Protocollen van de Wijzen van Zion, die de gehele twintigste eeuw het antisemitisme zullen aanwakkeren.Maar de vraag is of Simonini er alleen maar zijdelings bij betrokken is. Is zijn invloed niet veel groter? De Protocollen zijn een vervalsing, maar van wie precies?

De begraafplaats van Praag is een aangrijpende en belangrijke roman, die een verontrustend licht werpt op het historische en politieke Europa van de negentiende eeuw, met zijn complotten, aanslagen en samenzweringen.

Umberto Eco (Alessandria, 5 januari 1932) is een van de bekendste en succesvolste schrijvers van Europa. Dertig jaar geleden werd hij wereldberoemd met zijn historische roman De naam van de roos, die miljoenen lezers zou betoveren, en die werd verfilmd met Sean Connery in de hoofdrol. Van De begraafplaats van Praag werden in Italie binnen enkele weken al meer dan een half miljoen exemplaren verkocht, en het boek zal verschijnen in 35 landen.
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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. "--… (more)

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