Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

Author and academic Umberto Eco set his first international best-seller, “The Name of the Rose” in a medieval monastery. His latest novel takes place in 19th century Europe. Eco says all of its characters – except the protagonist – really existed. He describes this character as the most cynical and disagreeable in the history of literature. A spy and forger, he acts as a murderous double agent within Garibaldi’s army, presents an eyewitness account of the Paris Commune, helps to falsely incriminate Captain Alfred Dreyfus and eventually produces the fraudulent anti-Semitic text which Hitler used to justify his “Final Solution.” Umberto eco and Diane discuss the role of fiction, consipracy and true events difficult to believe actually happened.

Guests

  • Umberto Eco author of five novels, including "The Name of the Rose" and "Foucault's Pendulum," as well as numerous essays.

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Italian academic Umberto Eco drew on his extensive library, notebooks, clippings and scholarly articles to write "The Name of the Rose," his first bestselling novel. For his sixth and newest, Eco says he used literature to tell the truth and uncover a historical fraud.

  • 11:07:30

    MS. DIANE REHMThe novel has stirred controversy for its portrayal of an immoral anti-Semite, the only fictional character among a host of 19th century historical figures. The title of his book is "The Prague Cemetery" and Umberto Eco joins me in the studio. We do invite you to join us as well, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, sir.

  • 11:08:24

    MR. UMBERTO ECOGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:08:24

    REHMIt's good to have you here. I wonder, just to open this program and introduce our listeners to "The Prague Cemetery," if you would read for them the letter you wrote to your readers a year ago.

  • 11:08:48

    ECOIt is not in the book...

  • 11:08:49

    REHMOh, it is not in the book?

  • 11:08:49

    ECOIt was requested by the press office of my American publisher. Okay. "Dear reader, the 19th century teemed with mysterious and horrible events. The protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious forgery that later inspired the Dreyfus case, Hitler and numerous intrigues involving the secret services of nefarious nations, Masonic sects and Jesuit conspiracy as well as other episodes that were they not documented truth, would be difficult to believe."

  • 11:09:34

    ECO"'The Prague Cemetery' is a story in which all the characters, except one, the main character, really existed. Even the hero's grandfather, the author of a mysterious actual letter that triggered modern anti-Semitism, is historical. And the hero himself, though fictional, is a personage who resembles many people we have all known, past and present. And the book it serves as the author of diverse fabrications and plots against a backdrop of extraordinary coup d'etat sewers filled with corpses, ships that explode in the region of an eruptive volcano, abbots stabbed to death, notaries with fake beards, hysterical females, satanic celebrants of Black Masses and so on."

  • 11:10:29

    ECO"I am expecting two kinds of readers, the first has no idea that all these things really happened, knows nothing about the 19th century literature and might even have taken Dan Brown seriously. He or she should gain a certain sadistic satisfaction from what would seem a perverse invention, including the main character in whom I have tried to make the most cynical and disagreeable in all the history of literature."

  • 11:10:59

    ECO"The second, however, knows or senses that I am recounting things that really happened. The fact that history can be quite so devious may cause this reader's brow to become lightly built with sweat. He will look anxiously behind him, switch and analyze and suspect that these things could happen again today, in fact they may be happening on that very moment and they will think, as I do, they are imaginings."

  • 11:11:33

    REHMUmberto Eco reading from his letter to readers about his new book "The Prague Cemetery." Your main character, Simone Simonini, hates everybody.

  • 11:11:53

    ECOEverybody.

  • 11:11:53

    REHMEverybody and everything. And you grew up hating as well?

  • 11:12:02

    ECONo. You mean if I grew up hating? Who? The Simoninis?

  • 11:12:08

    REHMNo, you grew up as you've written elsewhere. You grew up hating people, hating Jews, hating Italians, hating everyone.

  • 11:12:28

    ECOSimonini, not me.

  • 11:12:30

    REHMNo. I have read that about you as well, that yours was...

  • 11:12:33

    ECONo, no. It is exactly the contrary, if you want, because since I was educated as a child under the Fascist dictatorship, when I went out of that nightmare and I was so happy...

  • 11:12:50

    REHMAh.

  • 11:12:51

    ECO...that it happened when I was 11 years old...

  • 11:12:56

    REHMExactly...

  • 11:12:56

    ECO...so I was able to understand the difference.

  • 11:12:59

    REHMBut early on as you were being raised within that kind of regime and under that kind of…

  • 11:13:13

    ECOThen you have totally transformed when we escape from that and so that's why I devoted my life to hate dictatorships and racism and everything because, you know, for a young man, it's a great shock and epiphany to be educated for at least the first ten years of my life...

  • 11:13:36

    REHMExactly.

  • 11:13:37

    ECO...to learn that you have to die for your country, that Mussolini was your father and so on and so forth. And suddenly on the radio we knew that Mussolini was kicked off and the day after, my mother said, go to the newsstands to see if there are newspapers, because with this earthquake, we don't know. And the old newspapers were no more there, there were new newspapers.

  • 11:14:08

    ECOAnd speaking of the Christian Democrats of the Socialist Party, of the Communist Party, of the Liberal Party, and so I understood that all those people, it's impossible they were invented overnight, so they existed before. But they were repressed, they didn't exist. They were in a clandestine way or in another country and I understood what a dictatorship is, a sort of repression of everything else.

  • 11:14:39

    ECOAnd I saw suddenly one morning of July '43, (makes noise) all that blew up. This changes the life of a young man.

  • 11:14:51

    REHMIt really, really does. But Simone Simonini may have an alter ego or he may have another part of himself that he is facing. It's a fascinating, but confusing, understanding of how this man is thinking, what he is thinking, how he is living.

  • 11:15:27

    ECOWell, he has a split personality, okay, also because at that time in Paris, there were many, many psychiatrists and eminently (word?) studying the split personality. I followed exactly all the clinical reports to give a split personality either to my Diana Vaughan, and also to Simonini because I think that a professional forger who spends his life saying always the contrary to what he believes has a split personality.

  • 11:16:04

    ECOAnd well, Simonini is, if you want, a sort of atomic pile of hatred. He's a condensation of all possible hatred, but there's a lot of people who are by nature intolerant. They cannot stand who is different, so that's why Simonini hates the Jews, hates the Germans, hates the Italians.

  • 11:16:34

    REHMHe hates everybody. He hates the Poles. He hates the Vatican.

  • 11:16:38

    ECOBut, you know, all -- he sent us -- apropos of Jews, of Germans, not invented by me. They are a pre-existing cliche. The end part of the anti-German invective is Nietzsche, the philosopher, who didn't like his own countrymen. The anti-Jews part is Celine, the notorious anti-Semite, French writer from a book "Bagatelles Pour Un Massacre" that now cannot be published because the widow is stopping this book because it's so violently racist that she wants to, in a way, to protect the memory of this husband who was so overtly racist that there is very little to protect.

  • 11:17:32

    ECOBut in any case, those pages were so, so incredible that the widow tried to put them aside.

  • 11:17:44

    REHMTell me about the letter that is at the center of this novel.

  • 11:17:49

    ECOThat is a historical fact. At the end of the 18th century after the French Revolution, a reactionary abbott, the Abbott Barruelo, wrote a book to demonstrate that the French Revolution was due to a plot of Knights Templar, the philosophers of the Encyclopedie and so on and so forth. An interesting case of plot paranoia, but he was not mentioning the Jews.

  • 11:18:30

    REHMAll right. And we'll finish that story when we come back. I look forward to hearing your comments.

  • 11:20:04

    REHMAnd welcome back. Umberto Eco is here in the studio. Just before the break, we were talking about the letter that is at the center of his newest novel titled "The Prague Cemetery." Please continue.

  • 11:20:27

    ECOSo I was telling this Abbott Barruelo wrote a book at the end of 18th Century to demonstrate that the French Revolution was the result of a plot made by the Templars, the philosophers of the Encyclopedie and so on and so forth. At that point, he received a letter for -- from a Captain Simonini of Florence about who we don't know anything else except the existence of that letter.

  • 11:20:56

    ECOAnd even that letter could be a forgery, but it -- the letter was full of all the anti-Semitic cliche. It say you have forgot the influence of the Jews on the French Revolution And he explains all the -- I mean, all the 19th Century anti-Semitics was summarized in this letter that circulated and circulated with the secret police of the French government. And it was circulated among the Jesuit journals. And it had an enormous influence. We don't know anything else about this Captain Simonini and about the origin of the letter.

  • 11:21:45

    ECOSo in my novel, I introduce that old Simonini and old reactionary or as they were saying at that time, (unintelligible) with the nostalgia of the French monarchy and so and so forth and this grandchild who is the protagonist of my story that was -- whose mind was shaped by the racism and the rationale, he thought, of his grandfather.

  • 11:22:15

    REHMGoing back to the reality of this letter, how did it come to influence Hitler as he came to power?

  • 11:22:27

    ECONo. The letter influenced a lot of offsprings of anti-Semitists of values a kind, and some are quoted in my novels, different books. And so -- and step by step, there was -- but even there we don't have absolute evidence, a slow concoction of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." My novel is entitled "The Prague Cemetery" because the Prague Cemetery was a fictional invention of a German spy, Hermann Goedsche, who told that story of the Rabbi (word?) gathering in the Prague Cemetery to plan the conquest of the world.

  • 11:23:20

    ECOOne of my contributions to the history of the protocols was that I think to have been the first one to discover the main source of that in a novel -- in a popular novel of Alexandre Dumas, Joseph Balsamo, were -- they are not the rabbis. They are the Freemason, but this -- the pattern is the same, gathering, you know, to plan the French Revolution. So you see that you use always the same pattern for different enemies.

  • 11:23:55

    ECOThis fictional story immediately was republished by many, many journals, even in Russia, as the real one. To such understand that Goedsche signed his book as John Retcliffe, okay. It was a pen name. But in the course of the events, John Retcliffe became the name of the chief rabbi in the "Prague Cemetery." So it was an immense growing up of a cliche. And the "Prague Cemetery" -- start of the "Prague Cemetery," influenced the concoction of the protocols. But not only this source, but many other sources.

  • 11:24:47

    ECOI used to say that the protocols are like Frankenstein monster made up with the pieces of different corpses. And, in fact, we know only that they were published in Russian in 1905. But what happened before is still a matter of historical controversy. They were certainly -- they certainly started in France, but with the Dutch and the forward German influence. And then, step by step, there were Russian secret agents that used it, and so and so forth.

  • 11:25:29

    ECOSo in my fiction, obviously I had to build everything to Simonini in order to make it more evident, otherwise I would have written an essay -- an historical essay. But there are already many beautiful and important historical essays of that story. I wanted only to dramatize it, even though, you know, it was not enough to write excellent historical books like "Warrant for Genocide" of Norman Cohn and others to convince people of that forgery. And so maybe a novel can be more convincing and can reach a larger audience.

  • 11:26:11

    REHMWhy do you think the Vatican has come out with such a negative reaction to your book?

  • 11:26:20

    ECOListen, first of all, it's difficult to say the Vatican. Is the newspaper of the Vatican, which by chance -- by -- in the last years has become very, very extreme writer and close to Berlusconi. So it's another story I am not so loved by the Italian government. And they were irritated, not because of the Jews, but because of the Jesuits. And because of themselves because the Observatory Romano (sp?) was ferociously anti-Semite the last century. Now obviously isn't.

  • 11:27:02

    ECOAnd in my book where I tell the historical through the Pope Leo XIII looks as a mad man because he took seriously the oaths as produced by a certain (unintelligible). So it seems -- it's incredible, but he believed the most incredible inventions. So they were irritated. But they couldn't defend the anti-Semitics of the Observatory Romano of the last century. So they told me, yeah, you are defaming Jews. That's nice.

  • 11:27:38

    REHMI want to go back for a moment to your early years under Mussolini and how you believe that has affected your thinking, your outlook, your view of the world.

  • 11:27:57

    ECOYou know, you should read my previous novel "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana," which is exactly the story of a young man who grew up in that period. If you don't remember the story, he's what is called a personal memory. He remembers that Julius Caesar was assassinated and Napoleon, but he doesn't remember who is the name of his wife, which is a typical clinical situation.

  • 11:28:32

    ECOAnd so he goes in the -- in his countryside house in which in the cellar or in the last floor he has all the memory of his childhood, the comic books he read, the newspapers collected by his grandfather. And so step by step he recovers his memory by reading all that material. And that materials depicts the way in which a young man at that time was educated. But, but, but I remember to have discovered that freedom of press and many other things that the dictatorship was not mentioning by reading Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse journalist.

  • 11:29:23

    ECOMickey Mouse journalist was a revelation. He was fighting for the freedom of the press. And it was the only text that told me that freedom of the press existed. Otherwise, I didn't know it. So even the comic books played an important role of the re-education of a young man even during the dictatorship.

  • 11:29:47

    REHMYou know what's fascinating? You said this young man had lost his memory. Simonini has suddenly lost his memory.

  • 11:30:01

    ECONo, it's another phenomenon. It's a split personality scientifically speaking.

  • 11:30:05

    REHMGood. Okay. But he says that the way he is going to regain his memory is to write...

  • 11:30:14

    ECORight, because he...

  • 11:30:14

    REHM...to write everything that he can remember.

  • 11:30:18

    ECOThat's due to a little suggestion of Dr. Freud.

  • 11:30:24

    REHMExactly. And Freud is...

  • 11:30:26

    ECOBecause he meets Dr. Freud in the media of (word?) the psychiatrist. And at that time, Freud was in his 30s, was not thinking as yet of psychoanalysis. It was only convinced that cocaine he can cure -- it could cure every disease. And -- which allowed me to make him to say, I don't think that I will be concerned with sex in my activity as a psychiatrist.

  • 11:30:56

    ECOBut he was informed of something similar to psychoanalysis, probably in the English milieu because he speaks of talking cure in English. And he speaks accidentally of that talking cure. And Simonini is inspired to -- since he doesn't think to confess his life to a Jew -- to a Jewish doctor, he tries to recover what he has partly forgot by keeping a diary. Because in fact, he has not been (unintelligible) forgot something. But he realized that there are certain days of his life that are empty.

  • 11:31:42

    ECOAnd at the same time in the same diary, there is another strange (unintelligible) making interventions. And the (word?) is suggested to suspect that probably Simonini and Dalla Piccola are the two sides of the same person. But it is not so sure even though -- because there is a turn of Dalla Piccola making an intervention, okay, I want to reveal all the tricks of this abominable novel.

  • 11:32:13

    REHMNow one thing that is very prominent in the book is food. And there are really some wonderful recipes in this book.

  • 11:32:28

    ECOThat was one of my mistakes. I tell you why. I gave Simonini all this food as a substitute for sex. He has no sexual activities. And I -- each of these recipes, I made the very serious research. And when he goes in the restaurant so and so and he eats the recipes. And so it is because I found the menu of that restaurant in that historical moment, each of these recipes is in itself marvelous. And the names are so...

  • 11:33:04

    REHMAbsolutely.

  • 11:33:05

    ECOBut altogether, they should disgust the reader. All over the country the readers were fascinated by the names of all those delicatessen.

  • 11:33:18

    REHMThis book, we should say, has already sold millions of copies. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones, 800-433--8850. We have some callers waiting, 800-433--8850. Good morning, Michael. He's in Hickory...

  • 11:33:47

    MICHAELGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:33:47

    REHM...N.C. Good morning.

  • 11:33:49

    MICHAELGood morning. I'm a huge fan of Mr. Eco's and...

  • 11:33:55

    ECOThanks.

  • 11:33:56

    MICHAEL...I just wanted to point out to all the listeners that if they get a chance, read "Foucault's Pendulum." It is -- I consider it one of the best books I've ever written -- or read. And it's far, far superior to "The Da Vinci Code" and especially your meticulous research. And I thought maybe you could touch on how you researched that book. It's fascinating.

  • 11:34:23

    ECOWell, you know, the research is fundamental for me, not because I want to be faithful to some historical truth, but because it is so amusing to spend six or eight years as a tablet for "Foucault's Pendulum" researching all the material. This is the nice aspect of the whole story when the book is finished. You have lost any -- every pleasure. That's for the research. And the research that I was collecting, all these awkward material that you can find in values book stores.

  • 11:35:03

    ECOAnd so -- and it was the same that the 20 years later was collected by Dan Brown with a small difference. My book is the grotesque representation of those who believe all that trash. Why the book of Dan Brown, I don't know if he believes or not, but it makes the readers to believe all that. So they make pilgrimage to (unintelligible) that is the difference.

  • 11:35:32

    ECOSo that once I met Dan Brown and I said, jokingly, you are one of my characters. You are one of the characters of the "Foucault's Pendulum."

  • 11:35:42

    REHMBut how did you feel about his book?

  • 11:35:47

    ECOAbout the "Foucalt's...

  • 11:35:50

    REHMDan Brown's book.

  • 11:35:51

    ECOOh, okay. I am not here to speak of the Dan Brown books. I thought it's using all this materials taking it seriously.

  • 11:35:59

    REHMFrom your...

  • 11:35:59

    ECOWhy not use all that material looking at it grotesquely and so with a critical mind and with a lot of irony. Well, let's say "The Da Vinci Code" lacks irony.

  • 11:36:15

    REHMIt lacks irony.

  • 11:36:18

    ECOAnd irony's for the (unintelligible).

  • 11:36:21

    REHMAnd you also believe that laughter is very important.

  • 11:36:28

    ECOOh, laughter is always important because sometimes it can be destructive and so you can use it as a critical weapon. Sometimes a dam is only an aspect -- positive aspect of life. Let me sort of...

  • 11:36:43

    REHMSo...

  • 11:36:44

    ECO...we laugh because we are happy. And sometimes we laugh because we are unhappy. And so...

  • 11:36:49

    REHMBut were you flattered or annoyed that Dan Brown had used so much of what you had written in "Foucault's Pendulum?"

  • 11:36:59

    ECOThat was public material. You can buy it everywhere.

  • 11:37:03

    REHMYou can buy it everywhere.

  • 11:37:05

    ECOThe world is full of people believing in the Holy Grail, in the Templars (unintelligible) and so forth. And what is typical of this material is that repeating each other from book to book, from book to book because people will believe only what they already know.

  • 11:37:26

    REHMThe "Prague Cemetery" is the title of Umberto Eco's newest book. We'll take a short break and be right back.

  • 11:40:04

    REHMAnd we'll go right back to the phones, your questions for Umberto Eco, his newest novel "The Prague Cemetery." Now, to Michael in Chapel Hill, N.C., good morning.

  • 11:40:23

    MICHAELGood morning, Professor Eco. I actually saw your three lectures at Oxford in the 1990s…

  • 11:40:31

    ECOAh.

  • 11:40:32

    MICHAEL...which I loved. I love your comments on Dante's quest for the perfect language.

  • 11:40:37

    ECOAh.

  • 11:40:38

    MICHAELAnd I think your concept -- I haven't seen -- I haven't read "The Prague Cemetery," but I'm really looking forward to it and I'm wondering whether you are -- you are warning us, in the form of a metaphor, about processes that actually could be taking place today within our own vastly expanded security services.

  • 11:41:06

    ECOYes. When writing this story taking place in the 19th Century, I was, in the very moment of writing, convinced that I was telling something about people who are living now. And I could -- you know, I would like my readers go around with this novel as with a guide -- with a (word?) – and saying, oh, that is a Simonini. That one is another Simonini. This world is full of concocters -- a producer of fake dossier and so is a permanent menace, in particular, all "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is an interesting case of something which has been proved false in 1921 and it continues to be taken seriously.

  • 11:42:02

    ECOI don't mention the Arab countries in which it is sold everywhere and present in every public library. And you can even understand it's a (unintelligible) , but even in the worst of the world and it's enough to surf a little on the Internet and you find a lot of sites that provide you still with the material of the protocol, so what the novel -- a novel should never have an educational purpose, but this time I was tempted at what to do to it even in an educational purpose.

  • 11:42:39

    REHMDoes that answer it, Michael?

  • 11:42:41

    MICHAELIt does. Could I follow it up with another question?

  • 11:42:44

    REHMSure.

  • 11:42:45

    MICHAELIf there are, of course, there are many people who are multiplying "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," but what about all of the -- you talk about the Arab countries, but what about all of the other websites that are stigmatizing Islam and the problem of Islamophobia? Do you think that that is also a problem?

  • 11:43:13

    ECOBut, you know, Internet is a strange form of global encyclopedia in which you can find a site that tells you that two plus two makes four and sites that tell you that two plus two makes five. In my example, the opposition is very clear. One is wrong, but it's very difficult even for a young person to identify the reliability of a site. And so it's very easy to fall on, let's say a negationist site without knowing that it is so. And so you absorb -- the Internet can't be controlled. That's a form of democracy, but it's also a form -- a risk for our time. We should teach people how to filter information.

  • 11:44:15

    REHMThanks for calling, Michael. Here's an email from Sig who says, "Today is the tenth of November. November 10, 1938, I was a 12-year-old boy in Vienna and witnessed the attacks on Jews. My father was threatened with a pistol by Hitler Youth and, through the intervention of a Christian neighbor of Czech origin, I and my father were saved. Mr. Umberto Eco is also very appropriate. After my liberation from Buchenwald, I needed medical care and received it in orthopedic hospitals in Italy. Any Jewish person who reached the Partiniagni (sp?) was safe and protected. Thank you for the guest and the subject."

  • 11:45:20

    ECOYeah, there's -- okay. Thank to you. It is true that when Mussolini proclaimed the racist laws in '38 because it was practically obliged by Hitler, the Italian people didn't follow it so much. So that what this gentleman is saying is true. A lot of Italians helped the Jewish people, but, well, there were also the racist in Italy. There was a very important journal, La Difesa della Razza, which was a terrible racist magazine full of crazy theory.

  • 11:46:08

    ECOAnd racism is always present -- you know, Italian believe not to be racist because there were no black people in Italy, no. Suddenly, with the immigration, Italy is full of black people, but even white people from Romania, Albania and the Italian have become racist. So there is a battle always open. We cannot -- never sit down and say, oh, that's so -- no, no, the evil is always there.

  • 11:46:42

    REHMTo Cazenovia, N.Y., good morning, Aaron.

  • 11:46:47

    AARONGood morning, Diane and good morning Mr. Eco. I wanted to comment on your comment that the protocols of the Zion of elder begins with the dishonesty of this, you know, fictional meeting with rabbis to plot to take over the world. And it calls to mind to me immediately the impossibly wrong, dishonest premise of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice in which the character of Shylock demands the pound of flesh from another human being. I mean, literally, the pound of flesh, which is, of course, an entire violation of any kind of Jewish law.

  • 11:47:29

    AARONAnd I wondered if you might comment on to the Shakespeare play and its impact on Western civilization through the spread of the English speaking civilization. And I'll take my -- your comment off the air. Thank you.

  • 11:47:46

    REHMHold on a minute. Do you understand the question?

  • 11:47:49

    ECOIt was Shylock (unintelligible) of the Shakespearean – listen, in England it happened worse because while the most ferocious stories -- anti-Semite stories is in the -- far before Shakespeare in the Tales of Canterbury, in which is told the story of this young Christian boy who was killed by the Jews in order to use his blood for their rites. And it is another pattern which initially was not to do to the Jews, but to the heretics. Then it was to do to Muslims then to Jews and even to communists -- Russian communists babies -- so it's a permanent pattern.

  • 11:48:48

    ECOSo the anti-Semitism of the "Canterbury Tales" was more ferocious and probably more effective than the one of Shakespeare because I must confess that the psychology of Shylock is multifaceted. Shakespeare is not hating Shylock. He's trying to understand his psychology so it's a little less than the many other -- the many other texts.

  • 11:49:19

    REHMHere's an email from Henry at the University of Michigan. "Mr. Eco will know that since its authorship the protocols has attracted enormous numbers of believers across Europe, the United States and still, today, in many parts of the world. What do we learn by trying to imagine its creator rather than focusing on its readership?"

  • 11:49:55

    ECOWell, apropos of its readership, there is a note I put at the end in which I quote the book of (unintelligible) "L'Apocalypse de Notre Dame," in which it says that the protocols are -- when he wrote in '39 the book -- that most widely circulated work in the world after the Bible. I cannot try to explain the fortune of these texts and I prefer to tell the story of its creation because maybe, first of all, they reinforce preexist in prejudice.

  • 11:50:56

    ECOOkay, I always quote the position of an anti-Semite, Nesta Webster, that in 1924 wrote a book after all the secret society and the plot paranoia and then she knew that the protocols were proved to be false and she concludes by saying, okay, maybe they are a fake, but since they say exactly what the Jews think they're true. So, you see, when the prejudice is there you always use a text to reinforce your prejudice. So I think that the problem is not the existence of the protocols.

  • 11:51:29

    ECOThe problem is the permanence of the racial prejudices and of anti-Semitism. If it were not the protocols it would have been another text. The protocols worked very well because they are (unintelligible) disconnected. You can do with them everything. It's like the horror picture show. You can do what you want with them because they have no coherence, no structure so you can use one page, another page. These things -- they are very, very, very useful to reinforce prejudice.

  • 11:52:03

    REHMDoes it concern you that these protocols are somehow alive and well?

  • 11:52:12

    ECOYes, certainly, certainly. They are there. You can buy them everywhere. You can find them in many versions on the Internet. You know, in Germany, for historical reasons you can understand, it is forbidden to publish either the protocols or Hitler's "Mein Kampf." So my German translator had problems because when in my novel I quote pages of the protocols. It didn't have a German translation, but then it was enough to serve a little on the Internet and they found there all the German translations of the protocol it needed. So it's, for me, stupid to forbid the publication of a book like that. They should make a critical edition with comments.

  • 11:52:59

    REHMTo be understood.

  • 11:53:02

    ECOYes, to explain what they are, how they're born.

  • 11:53:07

    REHMUmberto Eco and the book we're talking about is "The Prague Cemetery" and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's hear from Connie here in Washington, D.C. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:53:25

    CONNIEGood morning, Diane. I just wanted -- the book sounds fascinating. I just wanted to suggest that the readers also take the time, if they can, to get to Prague and visit the real Prague Jewish cemetery, which is also near the old synagogue. It's fascinating. There are tombstones on top of tombstones. I believe Kafka is buried there, too, if I remember correctly. It's absolutely a fascinating addition to this book, which sounds like a book I've got to go out and buy.

  • 11:53:48

    ECONow, it was very low.

  • 11:53:50

    REHMShe talked about visiting the Prague cemetery herself and how beautiful it is.

  • 11:53:55

    ECOOh, well, okay, okay. You know, in my novel, Prague is never visited and not mentioned. When there was the first information about the title of my book I was invited to -- in Prague as -- and I said, listen, I am not speaking of Prague, unfortunately, because it is a city I love. The real Jewish cemetery is a masterpiece. It is a sort of nature masterpiece because the accumulation of the tombs, one upon the other, it is like a mouth with the teeth very disordered before being cured.

  • 11:54:41

    ECOAnd it's absolutely fascinating and I think that even that miserable Goedsche had visited the cemetery and thought of it under the moon in a stormy night -- it was a perfect theater for a sort of horror show.

  • 11:55:04

    REHMI want to ask you about what's happening in Italy. We've had an AP report that the concerns about Italy are easing somewhat as Italian politicians voice support for a government led by Mario Monti. He is experienced in global financial circles. What do you think?

  • 11:55:32

    ECOI have no economic competence. I realize that there is a problem -- an economical problem to be solved. Even though I should say the Italian society is more affluent than its government. There are a lot of small enterprises, vast structures -- but, okay, we have to solve an important -- the case of Berlusconi was of a premier was not taken seriously by the other European leaders. And that was a tragedy.

  • 11:56:13

    ECOIf he resigns, Mario Monti is a very respectable person that will not solve the crisis in two days, but they will put again Italy in a normal relationship with the other governments because Berlusconi had lost any reliability and he had to be eliminated. If he resigns because he gives the impression to be like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid shooting, you know, not to be finally captured.

  • 11:56:48

    REHMYou feel he will step down?

  • 11:56:51

    ECOYes, but the moment he steps down, he will have a very serious judiciary problems. That's why he's trying desperately to resist.

  • 11:57:01

    REHMUmberto Eco his newest novel "The Prague Cemetery." Wonderful to talk with you. Thank you for being here.

  • 11:57:11

    ECOIt was wonderful also for me. Thank you, Diane.

  • 11:57:13

    REHMAnd thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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