The Prague Cemetery The Prague Cemetery question


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Eco lovers who are struggling with this one?
Derek Derek Feb 26, 2012 05:13AM
Foucault's Pendulum may be my favorite novel. Consequently I've read every other Eco fiction and have for the most part enjoyed them though suspect that, other than with The Island of the Day Before, I'm forcing myself to like them. The Prague Cemetery has me completely baffled. I'm about 125 pages in and still can't figure out what the hell this one is about. Ok, maybe it's that I know nothing about the history of Garibaldi and the Wars of Italian Independence / Unification, but I knew little about all the historical references and allusions in his other novels and still enjoyed them. This one is a snooze fest. Should I quit and move on, or will this one eventually grab and captivate me.



I am a simple man, yet I think Eco was commenting on today, more than yesterday. How the narrative drives perception, and perception becomes truth. I am not sure I got it but I do think he is commenting on present day. A lie oft repeated is often taken as truth.

I may or not agree with Eco's politics but he is perceptive. You must also consider the time an place.


Loved it. Eco has a wonderful sense of humor, poking at history like that. The though that a single, relatively obscure man was behind all those events really stretches the suspension of disbelief to its breaking point. Each new chapter brought me this "yeah, right!" feeling of amused doubt. I had pretty much no knowledge of the period to begin with, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.


Selena (last edited Jul 21, 2013 03:32AM ) Jul 21, 2013 03:27AM   1 vote
Give it a go and think about it, it has been given the name of 'The Prague Cemetery'..

Prague in the 19th century was no place for a single nation or group. Jews, French spies, Italians and the Czech people..

And if you would keep in mind that the Old Jewish cemetery in Prague was in use since the 15th century, it would be more easy to understand how such a place it has been up to now.. Besides, not to mention it hosted the seat of the Holy Roman Empire.

Thus, you could say the title is loaded with a bunch of hints..

With a sophisticated move in the story line, Eco tends to mingle this foreshadowed line of real and historical events with the highly cafufling text.

In my opinion, the hard-reading is caused by Eco's textual politics; one, you could read the book from the aspect of this sheer historical perspective and fail utterly, second, you might read it as a postmodern narrative, never being able to find the central story and want to tear your own limbs out.

The intrgiue lies in the point that a reader could most probably fall prey to one of these, which is apparently what Eco employs deliberately throughout the text. He might lead you easily to the 'cemetery'.

Yet, when you get outdoors, and do a little research about the Italian Independence Movement, the Jewish diaspora in Prague during the 1800s and the French at the same period, you will never be caught up.

Then you can combine it with the frame-narrative-like postmodern-narrative in which not every event is realiable, beginning from the protagonist. Is he a simulacrum of an idealized personality during this period or is he the 'product' of rivaling forces in Prague?

For an easy-going read, the reader ought to combine the 'fact' and the 'fake'. Once you become aware of that the book is no longer a field of battle for the reader.

The trick is to get out of the given context and self-build the background history for the book.

After all, it is named 'The Prague Cemetery'. A reckless move might bring you down to the bottomless pit.


what's going on with Eco? Is he just trying to show off his incredible knowledge?
Just some parts of the books are worth reading. My advice underline and make some notes when you run into a new character. You'll forget it sooner or later and you will have to reread your notes.


Oh, what a falling off is here! A once-great mind gone to rot and hubris. Eco has always had an ego the size of Jupiter. He made his openers to The Name Of The Rose and Foucault's Pendulum deliberately impenetrable. Why? 'If my readers have not the wit to follow me to the summit, they can stay in the abyss.' (I paraphrase from his Reflections on The Name of the Rose.) Prat.

And this book - effusions from Eco's abyss - is Pratness reified. Its strategy is: If I haven't offended you on this page, sucker, I'll get you in the next! But who, beyond page one, has ever turned the page? Prat...


I think I threw in the towel around page 250. Glad to hear I'm not the only one! I thought it was a painful reading experience.

Interesting summary, Lorenzo. I was beginning to pick up on that when I stopped reading, but was so disgusted with the captain that I didn't want to be in his head anymore.


I love his work and found myself wondering why I wasn't enjoying this one as I had others. I stayed with it and the epilogue was the pay off. I think the problem was the sheer absurdity and offensiveness of the protaganist had me scratching my head. Unfortunately, to tell you why you should stick with it would be the worst sort of spoiler.


Hmm, painful? Struggling? I got addicted to that book when reading it. I relished the humor, the irony, the historical references, the fact that the book is filled with characters that really existed. And, as somebody in the second post noticed - reveals the absurdity of anti-semitism as well as mechanism of creating and reinforcing prejudices - so up to date.


Gregsamsa (last edited Jul 17, 2013 08:41PM ) Jul 17, 2013 08:32PM   0 votes
I feel like I live on a different planet than most of the reviewers of this book and most participants in this thread. I have been a huge Eco fan for years (read all of his fiction and most of his academic stuff on semiotics) and while I think he sometimes lets too much raw history data get in the way of a story, I had the opposite reaction to Prague. I thought it was stupid. Yes, stupid. The central gimmick is a preposterously predictable groaner, and after all the atrocities in the novel it's a little hard to buy that one mere murder's aftermath would bring on a full-blown dissociative disorder (especially to such a callous asshole), and the way his two personalities had their neat oppositions (with apartments attached as conveniently as the intrusions of "lost time" were to the creaky plot) was all so cheesily cartoonish I began to wonder if the whole book wasn't just a joke I wasn't getting, a parody of something I'm unfamiliar with. Ironically (yes, actually ironically) he collaborated on an honest-to-gawd comic book (non-fiction) about the Protocols conspiracy, which would serve as a good primer for Prague which is far more cartoonish. The best thing that I can say about this novel is that it does give the reader a good bracing dose of the anti-semitism that was rampant through European history and which is usually politely skipped over except where it has immediate bearing, as if the Holocaust were some strange unpredictable aberration rather than a culmination.


Disintegration / Implosion /Entropy. The book deals with the impossibility of meaningful human structure in the absence of truth, and with the pathological nature of bigotry. The plot itself is not very thrilling.


Matt (last edited May 07, 2014 06:34AM ) May 06, 2014 06:54AM   0 votes
My first Eco novel in ebook format. I knew it was going to take a long time- now being able to cross ref historical events to the novel. But did love the protagonist straight off....dastardly! It was a welcome return to form for me after Mysterious Flame. I enjoyed it very much just because of richness of it


It was a rather easy read for me in terms of understanding what he's writing about. I had to push myself to finish it at times just because I respect Eco and didn't want to quit. I didn't like and felt disgusted by the main character (I guess that was the main point). Overall, worse than his other novels.


You should quit and move on as I did :) This kind of books make you feel like you should push yourself to read until the end but if you don't get the taste you expected it's better to move on to another.


deleted member Aug 22, 2012 06:11PM   0 votes
I will admit, I had quite a bit of trouble reading this one. I never out a book down once I start, but I wouldn't blame anyone if they wanted to leave this one closed. Even reviewing the book was a nightmare, becasue of all the points of reference! I think the problem may be in the translation, the entire time I was thinking, where is he going with it!


Wow. I just found this thread and I love it. This site is somewhat confusing like the book. Having said that and read some of the entries here, my conclusion is you have to stay with it and read it through. He is such a knowledgeable writer especially when it comes to European history. It is this reason alone that you should finish the book. I find my memory being jogged anytime I read his work. In 'Prague' I think the historical points are used purely as a backdrop and to give the main character more scenarios to manifest his misconceptions about Jews.
With his other work like Foucault's Pendulum,(my favorite), and The Name of the Rose, you feel the history is part of the narrative. Similar to Gordon's "The Physician".
I think Echo in this work tries to go for the moral jugular without to much emphasis on the history.
Thanks to all...This is a surprising and good discussion.


Barbara (last edited Jun 28, 2012 07:22PM ) Jun 28, 2012 07:21PM   0 votes
It is a book about a story that Simonini wrote and keeps editing for what ever audience will buy it. The sub plot of the book deals largely with an author and his struggle to keep control of his narrative.


I'm sort of surprised to see so many people struggling with this one. Though I can see people losing interest because the main character is such an unpleasant little turd. I thought the lost time mystery was enough of a hook to keep me interested. Maybe it helped that I had some previous knowledge of what the Protocols were and the damage they did.


It's standard Eco and hits all the themes that have thru lined his body of work. He luxuriates in the grim joke of spinning a comprehensive narrative of history/ knowledge/ the past. He played the joke in Rose on the monks Baskerville was sent to investigate. He played it on the protagonists themselves in Foucault's Pendulum. And in Prague Cemetery he plays it on the reader. Baudolino is a good counterpoint to read his other work against. A peasant fool that, due to the infectious and imperfect nature of language, finds a minor place in all the "big" moments of history as we can confirm in the library.


Kim (last edited Sep 11, 2014 12:00PM ) Sep 11, 2014 12:00PM   0 votes
I've read many Eco books and enjoyed them. When requests for suggestions for last year's book club list were suggested, I put this one forward and it was accepted. I had not yet read it and it was probably not the best introduction to Eco for most of the members of the book club!

I have an extensive background in European history and geography so I understood the context of the story and wasn't confused by the many references that pepper the book.

Some of the issues members brought up:

The character was totally unlikable.
Too many voices telling the story. Eliminate the narrator.
Many members couldn't get past the rampant anti-Semitism in the book.
They didn't get the point of the story and gave up about 25% into the book.


I got it, but still trudged through the story. I think what threw me off was the narrating style more than the contents. I couldn't stand the chapters told by the Narrator; they just felt like an intrusion to me.


I had the same feeling although it probably didn't feel exactly the same for me since i am a history student. I could, however, see how the tons of historical facts he crammed in can scare someone who isn't familiar with most of them.
Even though i generally liked the story and in my opinion his style of writing makes it worth reading even if you don't really get the hang of the story, i eventually had the idea that the whole book led to nothing.
I don't know what it is with this book but it just felt strange.


I too had a hard time reading the book. I looked at the notes in the back as I was beginning to wonder why I was even trying to read the book and they helped me. I finally understood what was going on in the story. This was a frustrating read and a disappointment for me. Unfortunately people like Simonini are probably still working their conspiracy plots.


Keep in mind: 1) this book is a satire and commentary on the writing process and the publishing industry; if read this way everything else falls into place 2) it is not meant for readers who are naive, inexperienced, or easily offended 3) If you don't hate Simonini you have missed the point of the book 4) Simonini's alter ego Dalla Piccola has symbolic/allegorical significance 4) some narrative difficulties are probably the result of Eco's age; he wrote this when he was close to 80, just before his death.


Derek wrote: "Foucault's Pendulum may be my favorite novel. Consequently I've read every other Eco fiction and have for the most part enjoyed them though suspect that, other than with The Island of the Day Befor..."

This book, like almost all other Eco's works has two stories in it. The one about characters (by the way, everyone but Simonini and a couple of them are real and did and said all that they do and say in the book) and a more wide story about bigger things. In this case the other "main character" of the book is The Sion Protocols, that is one of the main excuses that lead to the Holocaust. I probably had an easier time reading it because I could enjoy it in Italian, but I think that as for almost all books by Eco, the more you read the more you want to read them...


I have never read this author before and I found this book both confusing and interesting.Just when I thought I had NO idea what he was talking about he roped me in with something that held my attention. Having spent time in Paris it was usually the Paris writings that pulled me back. Also I never was schooled in European history so I found the story that he told both confusing and interesting..and i learned about Europen history. Will I read him again? NO!


I saw it principally as a sequel to the plotlines of PENDULUM, showing all the big "conspiracy" hype is the same with just a few names and details changed. The forger keeps on doing this, according to who his paymasters want to target.


I'm glad I found this thread. I thought it was me. I sat it down and haven't picked it up for four weeks, so I guess I gave up on it as well. And it is strange, kinda like being in someone's bad dream.


Squire (last edited Nov 16, 2014 08:32PM ) Nov 16, 2014 08:31PM   0 votes
This wasn't my favorite of his, but I found it fascinating (and funny in places.) There's always a learning curve whenever I read an Eco fiction, but I enjoy those as well as his historical put-ons (which his novels, in the end, are).The Name of the Rose is my favorite of his, followed by Foucault's Pendulum and The Island of the Day Before. His other 3 novels are all of equal value to me.

I will say that his books on semiotics are quite dense and I'm not really sure I understand them completely....


EdMohs (last edited May 06, 2014 08:52PM ) Sep 10, 2013 06:04PM   0 votes
I'm trying to write up a thoughtful response
but my writing skills expressing my thoughts
were never great
and there not getting any better. Ha Ha

But this novel, which breaks so many molds for Eco,
is a new style of historical literature.
It is excellent. Its a history that makes you feel.
Maybe anger, maybe sorrow. But it makes you want to act. And that's important. Plus, it got that fabulous humanist Eco humor and is a great archived recipe book of the 19th century
another Ha ha

Really this just may be his best
give it a few readings!

added because of the bottom post
Dastardly is right!

Plus, Simonini only gets uglier as the novel progresses.
Although there was a page-- somewhere in the middle of the book-- where the reader may have a moment of empathy. Only a moment mindya! It was over some fond memory Simone (or was it Pica de Della?) recalled out his twisted thought process.

I’m not a big classics or novel reader.
But this character --based in historical situations-
may be the most repugnant character to ever
grace the pages of a book.


Read with caution


The main protagonist was my stumbling block. I just didn't care what happened to him or what he did. So regardless of my love for Eco as an author, I have put this book aside. Maybe, when I'm in a darker mood, I'll return to it.

14421553
Randal Bingo. Hated the protagonist so much I just couldn't get past him to appreciate the novel (although I struggled through the whole thing). ...more
Jun 25, 2015 11:53AM

So glad that I wasn't the only one who was frustrated with this book - and I would be bit of an Eco fan. Yes, he's clever and knowledgeable and all that, but in fairness..My new copy went straight back to the shop so they could sell it on second-hand. Have never done that before


I struggled with it, but completed it. Eco has a way of drawing me into a story even when I'm confused. I keep asking what is he trying to say. I think knowing a bit of the historical period would have helped with my comprehension. Some day I want to reread it.


I have just given up with this one. I too liked most of Eco's other books but not this one. There was just something unpleasant about it as well as being fairly unreadable.


I must be missing something, I thought this was one of his easiest novels, and the one I would recommend to an Eco newcomer (along with Baudolino).


Frank (last edited Mar 05, 2013 07:59PM ) Mar 05, 2013 07:56PM   0 votes
I enjoyed the book. I think what helped me was the NYRB review which clued me in that the only fictional element in the book was the protagonist who was constructed to bring the various strands of the Protocols' history together. Also, I was helped by reading Robert Darnton's Devil in the Holy Water, which is a history of the publishing of political libels in pre-Revolutionary France.


I studied european history from the french revolution to world war 1 for A level history at school ,so this ought to have been right up my alley but I just couldn't get on with it,although I did finish it for the sake of completeness. I understood why the anti-semitism was there but even knowing that I could hardly stomach it.


Kim (last edited Apr 12, 2012 08:50AM ) Apr 12, 2012 08:49AM   0 votes
I think you have to read Eco's plot notes at the back BEFORE you read the book. Educating yourself about "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and the conspiracy theory surrounding them go a long way to understanding Eco too. I think the book is brillant in a way...


I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It was difficult getting through some of it, but overall, I really enjoyed the whole mad-genius plot and the split personality. I find with Eco, when you get lost, just keep reading, you'll find your way again, and maybe you won't catch every single detail, but I don't need to catch every single detail to enjoy the book. His books are ripe for second readings for this reason.


I initally tried listening to this on audio but got completely lost. Then I got the book and tried reading it. Not much better. Ordinarily I really like Eco, but this one just didn't do it for me. (My husband slogged through it and finally toward the end began to get it, but he was frustrated for almost the whoel time.)


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