Review

The Prague Cemetery

by Umberto Eco
Italian author Umberto Eco includes a note to readers pointing out the fact that the 19th century teemed with mysterious and horrible events. At the centerpiece of this is the infamous PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION, the notorious forgery that later inspired the Dreyfus Case; Hitler; and numerous intrigues involving the secret services of various nations, Masonic sects and Jesuit conspiracies, as well as other episodes that --- were they not documented truths --- would be difficult to believe.
 
"THE PRAGUE CEMETERY combines the full breadth of Eco’s talents and experience and has created an instant literary counter-cultural classic."
In THE PRAGUE CEMETERY, Eco uses his unique gift of writing about ancient and recent history to recount dozens of events that took place in Europe during the mid- to late-1800s. His principal character, and the only fictional one in the entire book, is Simone Simonini. Among other things, Simone is a spy, forger, glutton and hater of Jews. He is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, a mighty anti-Semite and author of a mysterious actual letter that may have triggered modern anti-Semitism.
 
What Eco has produced is a novel that exploits conspiracy theories and acts of outright terrorism that are still prevalent fears today. He offers that there will be two kinds of readers who approach this book: those who love historical fiction but have no idea whether or not the events depicted within his story are true, and those who know about these infamous events and has always suspected there may be something more to it. For those readers, Simone Simonini represents the morbid curiosity they feel whenever they are dissecting historical events to find the truth behind the myth.
 
No one country, person or religious sect is free from scrutiny in this darkly comic and often profane story. Everyone from Jesuits, Freemasons, various Popes and Napoleon himself are subjects of the many tales that are recounted within these pages. Diverse events featuring fabrications, lies and deceit are depicted through various historical storytelling involving black masses, executions and plots to rule the world.
 
Underneath it all runs the feeling of anti-Semitism that Simone greedily sinks his teeth into as the impetus for the more scandalous events of the 19th century. The midpoint of the novel features the title story of the Prague Cemetery. It is alleged that various rabbis from around Europe gathered at this cemetery in the evening to plot how the Jews would take over the world through both control of the global monetary exchange and the mass media. Arising from these clandestine nocturnal meetings came the most infamous literary forgery in history: THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION. Simone is more than willing to buy into this conspiracy theory. However, as the novel rolls on and more tales of corruption and deceit are raised, Simone begins to suspect the unthinkable. Could the source of all these historical events have been a single individual?
 
Umberto Eco is a prolific writer having penned dozens of fiction and nonfiction works over the past several decades. He is an author, historian and philosopher who gained world-wide acclaim with his fictional murder mystery THE NAME OF THE ROSE, which was later adapted into a movie starring Oscar winners F. Murray Abraham and Sean Connery. THE PRAGUE CEMETERY combines the full breadth of Eco’s talents and experience and has created an instant literary counter-cultural classic that is sure to open up debate and discussion by all who are brave enough to dive in.
 

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 11, 2011

The Prague Cemetery
by Umberto Eco