Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

The Content ReaderThis was for me a very difficult read to start with. I just read very small parts, which probably made it even worse. There was much confusion, and I felt nothing was real. I am interested in philosophy, although I must admit it is difficult for me to grasp. I want to have answers to my questions, and philosophy does not have answers. It has thoughts that take you along the road and continue until you are totally lost and feel somewhat mad! At least that is how it seems to me.

It took me more or less 60-70 pages before I got into the story. On page 32 I read:
What I felt more sure of was that the day, which I thought was Tuesday, was in fact Wednesday the 23rd March, and the Guillot did in fact come for me to draw up the Bonnefoy will. It was the 23rd and I thought it was the 22nd. So what happened on the 22nd? And who or what was Taxil?
I must admit, that looking back at the beginning when I am writing this review, it is much clearer now than it was at the time! I am very glad I finished this fantastic story. Yes, I did change my mind as the story developed and I was up until one o'clock in the morning to finish it!
It was 1855. I was already twenty-five. I had graduated in law and still did not know what to do with my life. I spent my time in the company of my old friends without feeling much enthusiasm for their revolutionary zeal, always expecting, sceptically, that they would be disappointed within a few months. Here once again was Rome re-captured by the Pope, and Pius IX, from being a reformer, had become even more reactionary than his predecessors. 
Captain Simonini is living in Piedmonte in the mid 19th century. By chance he becomes a counterfeiter, working for a corrupt lawyer. During the fights for Italian unification, he is contacted by a certain authority and hired as a spy. That is the introduction to his new career. Once he can't do more in Italy, he is sent to France, where his skills takes him to the international arena of spies and conspiracies that was part of 19th century Europe.  He is not hired only by the French secret service but also by the German and Russian services.

True freedom is man's right to follow the law of God, to be worthy of heaven or hell. And now instead, freedom means you can choose whatever beliefs and opinions you please, where one is the same as the other - and for the State it is all the same whether you are Mason, Christian, Jew or follower of the Great Turk. And no one cares about Truth.
Captain Simonini seems to be the perfect spy. He moves in the light and the dark, with honest people and the criminals, in the world of religion, freemasons and the Occult. Nothing is strange for him. Until one day when he can not remember who he is.
It is curious. You suspect we are the same person. You remember a great deal about your life and yet I remember very little about mine. On the other hand, as your diary shows, you know nothing about me, while I am beginning to realise I remember other things, by no means few of them, about what happened to you and - as chance would have it - exactly those things you seem unable to recall. If I can remember so many things about you, should I then say I am you?
But why does each of us remember the time and moment in which he found the intruder in his house and not the time and moment in which he entered the other's house? 
As he gets older he starts to reflect on his life and career.
I lost count of the number of times the scene in the cemetery was reused by other authors - as I write, I seem to recall that a certain Bournand recently published Les juifs nos contemporains, where "The Rabbi's Speech" appears once again, except that John Readclif had become the name of the rabbi himself. My God, how is life possible in a world of counterfeiters?
All through the book there are lovely descriptions of eating. Many of the characters are interested in food and meals are well described.
And having recited the list like a rosary, becoming increasingly agitated, and ending as if he had forgotten to take a breath, he ordered the civet to be served, made with belly pork, butter, flour, parsley, half a litre of Barbera wine, a hare cut into pieces the size of an egg (including heart and liver), small onions, salt pepper, spices and sugar.
He was almost consoled, but at a certain point his eyes opened wide, and he passed away with a light belch. 
You wonder how it will end, and when it does, it is quite unexpected.  It is a masterly written story and the width of it is clear, only when you read Umberto Eco's Dear Reader at the end. The short background leaves you in awe of how he can tell a story. I still remember In the Name of the Rose and here is another amazing story, which depths we can hardly graspWhat a genius he is, or was. Unfortunately, he passed away a while ago.

One of the very first reviews I wrote when I started my blog back in 2012 was This is not the end of the book, a discussion on books between Jean-Claude Carrière and Umberto Eco. So many wise words!

1 comment:

  1. I have wanted to read Umberto Eco since hearing him interviewed on the CBC a few years ago. What a erudite, witty, and charming man! To date, though, I haven't managed to do it. Perhaps I'll start with this.