finished reading umberto eco’s “the prague cemetery” recently.  was great as expected.  and made me feel how little i know of history once again.  that’s inevitable with any eco novel.  i consider myself an educated person.  nevertheless, i was only able to get about 30-40% of all his historical references.   yeah, the general stuff about garibaldi and his expedition of the thousand, the french-prussian conflict, references to dumas and hugo, france’s third republic, the dreyfus trial, the anti-jesuit and anti-freemason movements and anti-semitism in france and russia, i already knew some about.  ditto the protocols of the elders of zion.  but what i knew was only the tip of the iceberg as well as “the prague cemetery” is concerned…

same goes for every eco book i read.  my favorite, still is, “foucault’s pendulum“– the ultimate conspiracy theory book, less goofy and better constructed than “The Illuminatus! Trilogy” …   but more on the pendulum and its connection to the headline of this post, “where is dan brown when we need him?” later..

my second favorite is “the island of the day before“, the perfect book about regret.  it utilizes perhaps the best metaphor in modern literature as far as regret and past mistakes go– a 17th century man is stuck on a ship, swimming distance from an island.  he believes the island is on the other side of the international date line.   the “date line” is almost a science fiction concept for his 17th century enlightenment mind– he believes, if somehow he can reach the island, he will travel to “yesterday” and will be able to stop the ship from wrecking.  unfortunately he can’t swim.  in this conundrum, with the 17th century enlightenment version of time travel eating up his mind, he reminisces about his past mistakes and everything he would have changed only if he could.  like i said, the perfect metaphor for regret and past mistakes.  who, among the living or the dead, did not fantasize of traveling back in time to fix at least one mistake?

eco is a curator of obscure and esoteric knowledge.  he is also a master of unreliable narrators, memory and longing, past mistakes and conspiracy theories.  he is addicted to memories, or their transformation with age, and nostalgia (from greek, compound of nostos, “returning home”, and algos, “pain, ache”), best showcased in the island, mentioned above, and “the mysterious flame of queen loana“– books chuck full of artifacts triggering memories like proust’s madeleines…

and all his books make you want to sign up for graduate studies in history, philosophy or comparative religion.  i am yet to read an eco book without hitting 20 other books and sources simultaneously or sequentially to quench my thirst for knowledge.   they all make you realize that this late in the game, may you be 25 or 40, even if you dedicate the rest of your life to reading and research, your chances are slim in catching up with eco…

he is, and i guess that would be the ultimate compliment to him with his constant shout-outs to the great blind librarian of argentina, is the 21st century borges; or borges if he wrote novels instead of short stories…

the cemetery, as anyone who follows up on literature knows by now, is a satirical novel about the fictional creator of the infamous “the protocols of the elders of zion“, perhaps the most important anti-semitic conspiracy theory, and the biggest literary forgery of all time.   no need to delve into the protocols now– everyone has heard about them, but i am sure few on the western hemisphere have read ’em.  it is grotesquely shocking that they are still read and preached about as true texts in the eastern world and select neo-nazi circles, here and elsewhere.  but, like they say around my lovely brooklyn, “whaddaya gonna do?”– every conspiracy theory, no matter how frivolous it is or how well documented that it is a fraudulent, has a buyer…  people thrive on conspiracy theories.  no wonder the X-files was one of the most popular tv shows of all time…

captain simon simonini is our narrator.  actually one of our three narrators– the second narrator, a jesuit priest, is actually the alter ego of our captain and a third narrator jumps in only to correlate the often conflicting and confusing testimonies of the captain and his alter ego.

captain simonini is the ultimate unreliable narrator.  and he is despicable and evil to the bone.  he may be the most evil and despicable narrator created in modern literature.  the most evil literary creation in modern literature, in my humble opinion, is mccarthy’s judge holden in the “blood meridian“.  simonini is not as evil as the judge was.  but he is up there.  besides, judge holden was not the narrator and simonini is far more despicable: the judge was far more evil but had some sort of an honor code and dignity.  simonini has neither…

the captain is a career fraud and master of forgery.  he will forge any document, from wills and trusts to any old political document. he is an equal opportunity/ affirmative action hater– he hates anyone and everyone…  the book consists of his forgeries, leading up to the protocols and its many prior reincarnations, and how he self-justifies his skills as a forger and a fraud, gently reminding me of welles’ “f is for fake”, discussed elsewhere in this blog

his alter ego, the jesuit priest (don’t make me type his name here– i’ll have to look it up somewhere and copy/paste, too much work) is much more reliable and a slightly more decent person.   he initially thinks that he is a good man.  but, as the story unfolds, he realizes that he was just another instrument of evil from the captain’s toolbox…

eco had to make the captain this despicable– after all, the book, in the wrong hands, may be taken too seriously.  don’t get me wrong, almost everything in the book, except the narrators, are real historical characters.  but, a reader who doesn’t understand eco’s humor and satire, or who reads it as face value, can find the book a great anti-semitic text.  suffice it to say, eco had balls to publish it…

and this brings me to the post’s “pisses” tag; everything else i wrote before could simply be tagged “tickles”.  eco’s american publisher, on the other hand, did not have the same balls– they had to include a blurb in the back cover from cynthia ozick, without citing where the blurb is from (obviously written by ms. ozick only to grace the back cover of the cemetery), as a disclaimer.  ms. ozick’s disclaimer (gracing the back cover as a “blurb”) is sad to say the least.  she expounds:

“A J’accuse is always timely, but there has rarely been anyone to write it– until the advent of the falsely demonic Umberto Eco, a Zola posing as the devil.  His is a satanically dangerous novel, as are all ironic tales, especially if they should fall into the hands of a naive reader.  So: naive readers, country bumpkins, gullible gapers, keep away!  This magnificently sly, scarifying, circuitous, history-besotted jape is meant solely for the wise, the intrepid, and (if one may nowadays dare this biblical note) the righteous.”

“naive readers, country bumpkins, gullible gapers”?  really?  this is the first time i’ve seen a disclaimer on a work of fiction, as a blurb sans a source, on a book’s cover, which is designed to sell it.   even the “satanic verses” did not have such a disclaimer on it.  this blurb reminds me only of the “disclaimers” in high school science books agains “evolution”, shamelessly stating that “evolution” is just a “theory”, not proven, and is one among many other theories of our miserable existence, including creation.

why, oh why, put a disclaimer like this on a great book?

did the publishers think that the racists, anti-semites, and other assorted hate-mongers will decide not to read the book because of the disclaimer?  or not take it seriously because of it?  will a neo-nazi decide to leave it on the shelf when he sees the disclaimer, mumbling “thanks to ms. ozick i will not read this book– she made me realize i am not wise or intrepid enough”?  please– it is just a worthless cover your ass by the publishers– like the DVD CYAs sony and their ilk make us watch– nothing in this film represents the opinions of sony corporation or its employees.  please, have some balls if you’re publishing art– may it be literature or film– grow some balls and stand behind your artists and the freedom of speech…

enough ranting though– let’s get back to the subject line of this post: where is dan brown when we need him?  well, i am sure he is on a private island somewhere, waiting on the publication of the cliff’s notes to “the prague cemetery”…

dan brown’s stupid, stupid “the da vinci code”, and most of his oeuvre, is umberto eco’s “foucault’s pendulum” for the “naive readers, country bumpkins, gullible gapers”…

so ms. ozick and mr. eco’s US publishers need not fear– i am sure, as soon as the cliff’s notes to “the prague cemetery” comes out and mr. brown finally reads its watered down summary, there will be a bestseller written out of the cemetery for the “naive readers, country bumpkins, gullible gapers” with a tom hanks blockbuster following.  mind the cemetery was a bestseller in most of europe. we don’t need to fear the same happening on this side of the pond ms. ozick: only a watered down version, with enough built in disclaimers so you don’t have to write any more “blurbs”, will eventually hit our great nation’s grocery stores and walmarts, most likely from the hands of mr. brown’s assistants and ghostwriters…

so, ms. ozick and the great publishing house of houghton mifflin harcout, fear not of the “naive readers, country bumpkins, gullible gapers”, i am sure your remedy is right around the corner…

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