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The Island of the Day Before (1994)

by Umberto Eco

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,131521,130 (3.31)159
A 17th Century Italian knight recounts his adventures during a siege in the Thirty Years' War and afterwards in naval espionage against the British. In between, he describes the salons of Paris, lessons in fencing and reasons of state, and gives his thoughts on writing love letters and on blasphemy.
  1. 10
    Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel (polutropon)
    polutropon: Sobel gives a less fantastical account than Eco of the quest to accurately determine longitude at sea, though it's surprising some of the proposals that Eco didn't have to concoct for narrative purposes.
  2. 00
    Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: Both are big beefy novels written in the waning of the 20th century, and concerned with the exploratory push of European powers (in early modernity and the Enlightenment, respectively), as well as the relationships between objective and subjective worlds.… (more)
  3. 00
    The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: There's an interesting connection to be found here.
  4. 11
    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (hippietrail)
  5. 01
    Ex-Libris by Ross King (P_S_Patrick)
    P_S_Patrick: These books have some common themes, so may be enjoyed by the same people, but where Ex Libris is more of a "biblio-mystery", The Island of The Day Before is more of a general novel. Both books focus to a certain degree on the Age of Discovery, in the 17th Century, and the Longitude problem. They feature the historical conflicts, ships, and sailing, but this is perhaps where the similarities end. The Island of The Day before is better written, but whether you prefer the plot of one or the other will be due to personal preference. If you have an interest in the period, and enjoyed reading one, then I could recommend the other as a potential future read.… (more)
  6. 03
    Nation by Terry Pratchett (tronella)
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» See also 159 mentions

English (38)  Spanish (5)  French (4)  Italian (3)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (52)
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
A rather large part of me is astounded, yet again, at the erudition and the hopelessly convoluted tale that Umberto Eco is able to write, all when staying close to a single, simple premise. Indeed, the amount of real history, real contemporary and historical thought pre-1640's, is enough to send any regular scholar into paroxysms of joy... or the need to act on vengeance.

At any point the book, I can sit back and enjoy the text, the dry accounting of an anonymous scholar as he (or she) goes over the left behind documents of a shipwrecked scholar finding himself marooned on ANOTHER ship off the coast of a deserted island, unable to leave the ship because can't swim.

Ok, a little labyrinthian. But wait! He lives and dies recounting his youth, and out of learned frustration and boredom, devises a narration of himself both fantastic and strange. A twin brother which accounts for all his crimes and failures. A life of mystery and intrigue. A lost love is given over to his fictional brother, giving him all the good things as well as the bad.

The progression and subtle shifts throughout the novel are rather excellent.

So why am I giving this a three star? Well, for as much as I appreciate the beautiful writing and the excellent idea behind it, it fell flat. I didn't care for either Roberto or his evil self-narrative twin. And the amount of space spent on Galenic and cutting-edge 17th-century science might be AWESOME in retrospect and conception, but a FREAKING DRAG in execution. :)

Lordy, I can't recommend this to anyone except those who LIKE this kind of scrupulous historical drama with a HUGE dose of accurate historical erudition. This is a scholar who's trapped and a scholar who goes over this long-dead scholar's work. Ergo, it follows that the reader should ALSO be a scholar. :)

Read this with caution. It doesn't have the charm of Baudolino or the crazy humor of Foucault's Pendulum or the awesome historical mystery of Name of the Rose. Alas. But it is nicely labyrinthian if you're into that kind of thing. :) ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
What a curious, maddening book. Certainly a great example of creative writing and, it seems to me, a brilliant piece of translating by William Weaver. It seems like Eco has used this book as a way to demonstrate his erudition ....and he does this remarkably well. What is the plot? Well it's certainly convoluted.....it purports to be the work of somebody who came across an ancient manuscript dating back to the mid 1600's. And the original author of the manuscript was ostensibly keeping something like a diary of his misfortunes....plus enough of his background and history to make a decent story: Born in Italy to minor nobility, involved in the siege of Casale where his father died, thence to paris were he become involved in intellectual and subversive circles, arrested by Cardinal Richelieu for his apparent knowledge of the "powder of sympathy" and sent on a secret mission to elucidate what the English are up to (in terms of measuring longitude using this powder). Shipwrecked and washed up on the 180degree of longitude to a deserted ship......a ship with a room of clocks and a hold full of birds....and a rather maniacal Jesuit Priest who is pursuing the secret of longitude with the "specula melitensis". Because they are (according to the priest) on the meridian line the island to the left is the day before and to the right it is today....so one can go back in time!!
The island of he day before holds both the specula melitensis and a spectacular orange dove and the long boat from the deserted ship......Roberto, the author of the manuscript, and the priest being unable to swim.....the island is unattainable ...but they try in many different ways to get to it. Overlaying this narrative is a second story arising from Roberto's imagined evil twin, Ferrante, who is hell bent on destroying Roberto....and an unattainable love for Lilia in Paris. To rid himself of this imaginary evil twin, Roberto writes a story wherein Ferrante impersonates him in Paris, wins Lilia, and escapes on a twin ship to the Daphne on which Roberto is marooned. Eventually, Ferrante comes to a satisfyingly, unpleasant end. But woven into this dual tale there is speculation about; the various ways of determining latitude, whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa, the use of the powder of sympathy to cure wounds, then nature of time, Various medieval inventions for walking or working underwater, The nature of doves and the realm of hell...and the psychological torment and nature of jealousy of the absent lover. Eco can captivate with his writing: for example on describing the sight of coral for the first time: "He was above a garden, no, he was mistaken, now it seemed a petrified forest, and at the next moment there were mounds, folds, shores, gaps and grottoes, a single slope of living stones on which a vegetation not of this earth was composed in squat forms, or round, or scaly, that seemed to wear a granulated coat of mail, or else gnarled, or else coiled,. But, different as they were, they were all stupendous in their grace and loveliness, to such a degree that even those worked with feigned negligence, roughly shaped, displayed their roughness with majesty; they were monsters, true but monsters of beauty......
Cypress-polyps, which in their vermicular writhing revealed the rosy colour of a great central lip, stroked plantations of albino phalli with amaranth glandes; pink minnows dotted with olive grazed ashen cauliflowers sprayed with scarlet, striped tubers of blackening copper....And he could see the saffron liver of a great animal, or else an artificial fire of mercury arabesques, wisps of thorns dripping sanguine and finally a kind of chalice of flaccid mother of pearl......."
Sometimes this erudition becomes a bit "over the top" ....is he really just showing off ....or over-working his thesaurus? But whenever I went to cross check on some obscure word or reference ...they all fitted. Sometimes...I found myself getting a bit bored but he deftly swings between the various narratives to maintain the interest despite some rather wordy passages.
One thing fascinated me and that was the medieval reasoning for such things as the rotation of the planets, and what happened to the water after Noah's flood? And the importance of "devices" (such as those used on flags).
But I've always enjoyed Eco's books and this one is no exception. Five stars from me. ( )
  booktsunami | Mar 24, 2020 |
Mind Blown...... Eco at his most eccentric. ( )
  Joe73 | Oct 22, 2019 |
I have loved every book by Umberto Eco. I chose to read The Island of the Day Before to celebrate his passing, a comedy of narrative coordination, at least in my mind.

This is a wonderful book and in true Eco style, you have to be patient for all of the soul shifting pieces to cascade onto you, the reader. ( )
  pspringmeyer | Aug 29, 2019 |
Mesmerizing in scope and intensity. One of the best Eco books I've read yet. ( )
  DanielSTJ | May 5, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Umberto Ecoprimary authorall editionscalculated
Boeke, YondTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Franssen, MaartenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krone, PattyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saarikoski, TuulaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weaver, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Is the Pacifique Sea my Home?

John Donne,
Hymne to God my God
Stolto! a cui parlo? Misero! Che tento?
Racconto il dolor mio
a l'insensata riva
a la mutola selce, al sordo vento . . .
Ahi, ch'altro non risponde
che il mormorar del'onde!

Giovan Battista Marino,
“Eco,” La Lira, XIX
Dedication
First words
I take pride withal in my humiliation, and as I am to this privilege condemned, almost I find joy in an abhorrent salvation; I am, I believe, alone of all our race, the only man in human memory to have been shipwrecked and cast up upon a deserted ship.
"Eppure m'inorgoglisco della mia umiliazione, e poiché a tal privilegio son condannato, quasi godo di un'abborrita salvezza: sono, credo, a memoria d'uomo, l'unico essere della nostra specie ad aver fatto naufragio su di un nave deserta."
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The 6 hour audiobook edition read by Tim Curry is an abridged edition and should not be combined with complete editions of the book. Thank you.
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