The edition: Italian (original) edition, as published by Bompiani Vintage, 522 pages (with Appendix)
The story: suddenly addled with an incapability to remember the past few days, a man writes the story of his life in order to discover the secrets his mind is trying to repress. And his is a life threaded in all the secrets of European history during the XIX century, as this man is a spy, a forger, an impersonator, as well as the mind behind the biggest conspiracy schemes of the time (think the Protocols of the Elders of Zion).
My experience with the book & my thoughts: I usually say I like Umberto Eco. Truth is, I loved The Name of the Rose to pieces, and his non-fiction is interesting, but no other novel he ever wrote since was anything like that.
This one puts together an horrible protagonist/narrator (one who only lives for his hatred of, basically, any other living person and for his love of good food), a confused story with no positive character and a huge cauldron of every possible conspiracy or sect (Freemasonry, satanism, every possible form of racism, Jesuits, the Church as human power, whatever). Not something I could like.
Sprinkle that with all kinds of scholarly references. Oh, I know, I am limited in that there are surely lots of references I didn’t get. And I have the impression that I was lucky, being Italian, because there were many references that would be completely obscure to a non-Italian reader. Would I have liked this book better, had I been more knowledgeable? Possibly, possibly not (I still need positive characters to root for). To me, it looks more like Eco wrote something just for his own fun, something that no one will get fully, something that is only selling because of the name of its author.
What I liked: mmmm words, maybe?
What I didn’t like: endless descriptions of food preparations, which seem to be there just to pump up the size of the book.
Links to better understand this book:
- on the situation in Italy and the struggle to Italian unification
- on Garibaldi and the Expedition of the 1000
- on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion
Read this if: basically, don’t.