Reading Update: The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

Posted on Posted in Commentary

I’m making my way through Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery (pp 165/556), which is proving difficult on two levels. First, of course, is the blatant racism. The reader is in the mind of a truly troubled character who hates everyone (most of all the Jews) and sees conspiracies everywhere (“while not all Masons are Jews, all Jews are Masons” p.162). But Eco also complicates the reading process by giving the main character a personality disorder, and allowing both personalities to communicate events via letters. Protagonist(s) and narrator are thus separated and the reader is supposed to take an active role in the reconstruction of the narrative.

Perhaps what makes the reading difficult is the realization that everything is “historical”. All characters  — apart from the despicable protagonist(s) — historically existed, and even though the protagonist(s) is/are a collage of events/statements only attributed to the fictional man/men, Eco reminds us that “Indeed, to be frank, he is still among us.”

Reading this reminds me of Marx’s quote about history repeating itself first as tragedy, then as farce. One can easily replace all the anti-Semitic caricatures of the Jews in this novel with caricatures of Muslims today. There is a difference though. And it is one of magnitude. Jews historically suffered thousand of years of antisemitism (ghettoizations, oppression, banishment and exiles, etc.).

Ugh, I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next 400 pages.

Any tips?

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