The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana

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9780436205637: The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana

Yambo, a sixty-ish rare book dealer who lives in Milan has suffered a loss of memory; not the kind of memory neurologists call 'semantic' (Yambo remembers all about Julius Caesar and can recite every poem he has ever read), but rather his 'autobiographical' memory: he no longer knows his own name, doesn't tecognize his wife or his daughters, doesn't remember anything about his parents or his childhood. His wife, who is at his side as he slowly begins to recover, convinces him to return to his family home in the hills somewhere between Milan and Turin. Yambo promptly retreats to the sprawling attic, cluttered with boxes of newspapers, comics, records, photo albums and adolescent diaries. There, he relives the story of his generation: Mussolini, Catholic education and guilt, Josephine Baker, Flash Gordon, Cyrano de Bergerac. As he recovers his memory, two voids remain shrouded in fog: a terrible event he experienced during the resistance, and the vague image of a girl whom he loved at sixteen, then lost. But a relapse occurs. Now in a coma, his memories run wild, and life racing before his eyes takes the form of a graphic novel. Yambo struggles through the frames to find at last the face of the girl he loves: she descends the stairs of their high school and morphs into a Dante-esque promise (or threat) of the afterlife, as he struggles harder to capture her simple, innocent, real-life image - the schoolgirl he never forgot. Copiously illustrated throughout with images from comics, book jackets, record sleeves and other printed ephemera, The Mysterious Flame is a fascinating and hugely entertaining new novel from the incomparable Umberto Eco.

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Review:

The premise of Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, may strike some readers as laughably unpromising, and others as breathtakingly rich. A sixty-ish Milanese antiquarian bookseller nicknamed Yambo suffers a stroke and loses his memory of everything but the words he has read: poems, scenes from novels, miscellaneous quotations. His wife Paola fills in the bare essentials of his family history, but in order to trigger original memories, Yambo retreats alone to his ancestral home at Solara, a large country house with an improbably intact collection of family papers, books, gramophone records, and photographs. The house is a museum of Yambo's childhood, conventiently empty of people, except of course for one old family servant with a long memory--an apt metaphor for the mind. Yambo submerges himself in these artifacts, rereading almost everything he read as a school boy, blazing a meandering, sometimes misguided, often enchanting trail of words. Flares of recognition do come, like "mysterious flames," but these only signal that Yambo remembers something; they do not return that memory to him. It is like being handed a wrapped package, the contents of which he can only guess.

Within the limitations of Yambo's handicap and quest, Eco creates wondrous variety, wringing surprise and delight from such shamelessly hackneyed plot twists as the discovery of a hidden room. Illustrated with the cartoons, sheet music covers, and book jackets that Yambo uncovers in his search, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana can be read as a love letter to literature, a layered excavation of an Italian boyhood of the 1940s, and a sly meditation on human consciousness. Both playful and reverent, it stands with The Name of the Rose and The Island of the Day Before as among Eco's most successful novels. --Regina Marler

Book Description:

Published in hardcover by Harcourt, 2005, 0-15-101144-0

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