Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: The Name of the Rose, By Umberto Eco

The Name of the Rose
By: Umberto Eco
ISBN:  978-0156001311
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The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns to the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, and the empirical insights of Roger Bacon to find the killer. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey (“where the most interesting things happen at night”) armed with a wry sense of humor and a ferocious curiosity.

The Name of the Rose grapples with morality and theology in a story where essentially Sherlock Holmes meets the 1300s. William of Baskerville and his novice assistant, Adso, investigate murders that correspond with the seven days of the apocalypse in the book of Revelation. As they try to find out who is bringing on the end times, they are met not only with physical, but spiritual challenges as relations between Pope John XXII and Franscian order fall apart. This is historical fiction told at its finest, combining the theological difficulties of the time with the looming threat of a hidden murderer. Rich with theology and historical content, The Name of the Rose presents a heavy read filled with detective work and debate, trying to demonstrate the dangerous gap between theological ideals and practice.

Readers should be aware it contains mild language and a brief sex scene, as well as depictions of murdered men and graphic retellings of heretics burning at the stake. Also, although the work has been translated into English, the novel has passages containing Latin and German. These passages are few overall, but significant enough that I would recommend buying a translation book.
The Key to “The Name of the Rose” (ISBN: 978-0472086214) is an excellent companion book to this novel, accurately translating all Latin and German sections. This work also has a list of significant people mentioned in the novel, which is incredibly useful to the reader to understand the significance of the struggle the characters face at the abbey. 
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