You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is about a man who awakes from a coma with amnesia and tries to rebuild his life. He ends up delving into books and finally reaches the memories of childhood.

Yambo does not recognize his wife or grown children. He goes home from the hospital and tries to remember his life. His grandchildren are glad to see him, even though he does not recognize them either. He goes to the rare book store that he owns and his assistant Sabila shows him the books. He finds out from his best friend that he used to be a womanizer, and lusted after Sabila even though nothing happened.

Frustrated, he goes to his family's house in Solara in the country. There he encounters the old woman who helped raise him. He rediscovers old things in the house, the grounds, and especially the attic. When even portraits of his family do not help his memory, he goes through old books and finds that he remembers them. It turns out that only his memories that are attached to his personality are missing. He can remember a story as long as it was something he read and not something that actually happened to him.

Yambo discovers a secret room in the house. The old woman won't talk about it at first, but then he manages to get her to divulge the secret. It turns out his father had hidden a group of refugees there to keep them from being found by the fascists during WWII. Yambo gets into the room through the attic and finds other old things there. He reads old papers and wonders at his indoctrination into fascism and how he changed over the course of one school year.

Finally he finds himself in an extended memory, perhaps dreaming or perhaps dying. He remembers life during the war, and an old anarchist he made friends with, and a big event towards the end of the war. Some Russians on the run from the Nazis hide out in a nearby town, and only Yambo can save them since the Nazis have blocked the only road down the mountain and he and his friends know how to climb the gulch behind the town. He manages to lead the anarchist up the gulch and they get the Russians down the gulch and to safety, killing two Nazis. The anarchist ends up dead.

A final memory is of a girl that he loved in high school but he never was able to approach her. He had fond memories of her and fantasized about meeting her again, until a few weeks before his accident when he learned that she had died shortly after high school. And it turns out her real name was Sabila. The book ends as his memories of her grow, and he believes he is finally going to be able to see her face again, just before everything turns dark.

The book is rich on the subject of memories and nostalgia. The element of fog pervades the story. There is fog that surrounds the town when they save the Russians, and his mind is always clouded by fog that he tries to see through. The poring through the items in the attic, and finding the secret room in the house, both symbolize the memories that he sifts through and finds. The myserious flame is a flash of memory that hits him at times. Learning about his childhood is a strange experience, when he reads about himself like he is discovering a new person.

The lack of strong conflict in the story leads me to give it a B+. At times it gets a little rambling, and I would wonder where it was going. But still it is entertaining to read about Yambo getting to know himself "backward", as it were. From meeting his own family, to finding his old family house, to finding the stories he read as a youth, to reading his own writings. The pieces of the stories he read interweave in a fun way with the memories of his life.


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