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Interviews | April 8, 2014

Shawn Donley: IMG Gabrielle Zevin: The Powells.com Interview

Gabrielle ZevinThe American Booksellers Association collects nominations from bookstores all over the country for favorite forthcoming titles. The Storied Life of... Continue »
  1. $17.47 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

    Gabrielle Zevin 9781616203214


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The Name of the Rose (Harvest in Translation Series) by Umberto Eco
The Name of the Rose (Harvest in Translation Series)

jon113113, May 3, 2010

Certain books have been cast out of the limelight because of the challenge they pose to readers. The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco, is not a book for the faint of heart. Its infinite complexity and dense material can seem daunting, but for those who are up to the challenge, the book is a wonderfully satisfying read.

The Name of The Rose revolves around two monks, William of Baskerville, and Adso of Melk, in their attempt to root out a murderer plaguing a medieval monastery. In a very Holmesian fashion, William and Adso navigate through the monastery, discovering layer upon layer of mystery, navigating passageways, decoding secret messages, confronting monks and their unholy ways, all under the pretext of a holy mission. But, as they find out, the mystery only compounds itself, yielding further struggle to these characters, and culminating in an Apocryphal climax.

When I first looked at the novel, the sheer enormity of the book made me doubt my decision to read it. There are larger books out there, but the density of the material within is truly staggering. Eco goes from describing a secret message on one page to a scathing discussion on religious tenets in the next pages. But pushing forward through the novel, the journey began to reveal larger messages that Eco invokes. The main character, Adso, plays a role remarkably similar to the reader, and together, we journeyed though the book. Adso’s journey mirrors our own, and even he feels “it is hard to know whether the letter he has written contains some hidden meaning, or more than one, or many, or none at all.”

After the plot became understandable, further layers in the novel revealed themselves. Symbols started to emerge, blatant ones, religious ones, and symbols so broad it takes a second glance to fully understand how exactly it fits. But once they are realized connections are made, ideas fall into place, and the whole novel begins to click. There were many “Aha!” moments as I read, which are always fun.

However, after finishing the novel, a new understanding becomes apparent to the reader. The novel is not simply a murder mystery in a monastery, but so much more. Every piece of the puzzle, from a carving in the door to the arrangement of rooms in the library plays a vital role in the solution to the puzzle at the end. And the real gift of The Name of The Rose is not in its plot, but the realization about literature, about ideas, about understanding that the book teaches. For Umberto Eco’s novel is not just a novel, but a masterpiece that deserves to be read.
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