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Eco, Umberto

italian features history novel

(Italian, 1932– )

Born in Alessandria, Italy, Eco was educated at the University of Turin and has held numerous distinguished appointments at universities in Europe and America. His academic expertise in semiotics, or the science of signs, strongly informs his fiction, in which systems of meaning and interpretation are central features. Begin with the best-selling The Name of the Rose (1980), made into a successful film, which vividly re-creates life in an ancient Franciscan monastery in 1327 during a turbulent period in papal history. The novel hinges on the detective skills of William of Baskerville, a visiting English monk. He penetrates the mystery surrounding a series of deaths within the monastic community through his skill in deciphering cryptic symbols. Rich in scholarly irony and esoteric digression, Foucault's Pendulum (1989) features a group of academics who stumble upon a Satanic conspiracy for global dominion while creating an elaborate computer program for their own amusement. The narrative shifts with entertaining informativeness through strata of culture and history from the Middle Ages onward. Set in the early seventeenth century, The Island of the Day Before (1995), Eco's third novel, evokes the mental and emotional experience of a young Italian nobleman stranded on a deserted ship in the South Pacific. His consciousness drifts through expanses of memory and philosophical reflection prompted by his dilemma.

Jorge Luis Borges, Ellis Peters.

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