Thursday, January 19, 2017

Book 60: The Name of the Rose

"Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors."

Dates read: June 6-12, 2016

Rating: 7/10

Lists/Awards: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, New York Times bestseller

I've always loved languages. Growing up, one of my goals was to learn all the Romance languages during the course of my lifetime. I learned a little bit of French in middle school, took two years of high school Spanish, took two years of Italian in college. I speak none of these languages completely or especially well (my Italian was pretty okay immediately after I finished taking it, but that was ten years ago), so adding Portuguese and Romanian to my plate doesn't look like it's ever going to happen, but I'd still love to make it happen if it ever works out. It's not been much a priority until now, but maybe someday.

Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose is the first book I've ever read that features heavily the root of the Romance languages: there's so much Latin I had to keep a website with most of the translations up on my phone when I was reading it so I wouldn't miss anything (well, too much anyways). The book is a murder mystery set over the course of a week in a monastery during the Middle Ages (hence all the Latin). That's the way I'd describe it to people, but it's also so much richer and deeper than that.

It's about faith. It's about sin. It's about various schismatic movements within the Catholic Church in the 1200s and 1300s (the time of the anti-popes). It's about laughter and poverty and their roles within the lives of the cloistered. It's about those cloistered, their relationships with each other and the outside world. It's about books and learning and whether wanting to learn more is always a good thing and whether knowledge should be controlled. It's about power and having it and wanting it.

The story follows Adso, a young novice monk, traveling with Brother William of Baskervilles, a Franciscan when Franciscans were a very new movement. They arrive at an abbey famous for its incredible library and are begged by the abbot to help inquire into the death of a monk just the night before. William, who is an obvious and intentional analogue to Sherlock Holmes, is intrigued and goes about investigating. Was it a suicide? A murder? And every day, another monk keeps turning up dead, making William and Adso's work a race against time.

I can already tell I'm going to need (and want) to read this one again. It's so dense, so full of allusions and historical references I just don't understand, that it's obvious that to read this only once means that you'll never be able to fully appreciate it. It reminds me of Dante's Divine Comedy, in that it's certainly readable and enjoyable on its own, but without a fuller understanding of the world at the time, you can't really understand everything that's going on. So I'll need to read up on the establishment of the Franciscan order and the other religious splinter groups that developed around the same period and tackle this one again. The writing is lively and the characters and drama compelling enough that I'm sure it'll be a rewarding experience. But for the first time through, despite having liked it, I feel like I've missed enough that it wasn't quite as satisfying as it could have been.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever taken a class on just one piece of literature? My class on La Divina Commedia in college was one of the best classes I ever took!

One year ago, I was reading: The Woman Who Would Be King

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