Friday, January 21, 2011

Book Review: Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

Eco, Umberto. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, 2005.

This novel is more of a summary of the imaginative life of an Italian intellectual born in 1931 with a plot-framing device than a novel, but it has wonderful scenes nonetheless, and its overarching exploration of what it means to be conscious and to have memory is directly in line with Eco's other meta-narratives. A rare-book dealer awakes from a stroke to find he has nearly perfect verbal memory but remembers nothing of his own life or his own emotions. There follows a process where he has to reacquaint himself with his wife, his children and grandchildren, his employee, his friends and even the northern Italian city in which he lives. Finally, he returns to his grandfather's estate to go through the physical remains of his boyhood, including the comic books he read and his own writings. The story's outcome is not what you'd expect from a romance or inspirational novel (spoiler alert -- it takes a dark but brilliant turn), and if you weren't born in Italy in 1931, a lot of the cultural references won't resonate. But the book offers a fine window into what it meant to be a boy grown up under fascism and how our cultural inputs shape our own stories and our memories.

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