Thursday, February 26, 2009

Island of the Day Before - Umberto Eco

Books by Umberto Eco have been praised to an extreme degree, and have also evoked a huge amount of criticism. They can be difficult to read at times, and I have known many friends who shied away from his other books once they read any one of them. My opinion differs in the sense that I like his way of writing, and had previously read his 2 other works of fiction (The Name of the Rose, and Foucault's Pendulum). I will be honest, reading Pendulum .. was tough in parts, but once I read the book, I could not help admiring. And of course, 'The Name of the Rose' was simply superb, and my esteem for Umberto Eco went up pretty high after reading both of them. Next was 'The Island of the Day Before'. This is a book that has had many more mixed reviews, with many people outrightly condemning the book as too complicated and a lesser work. I do not share the same views; for me, the book was interesting and worth reading.

The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco (1994)

The tale is complex, being the tale of a person in a shipwreck, as revealed through letters and memoirs. It is not just the tale of the isolation of a ship-wreck, but the tale of the life of 17th century France, of the society, the politics, and through all this, the life of a young man. The book is the story of Roberto della Griva, born into a minor noble family. The story is devoid of many details, such as how the memoirs of Roberto got into the hands of the modern day editor who is writing the book.
Roberto is a complex personality, he believes that all the problems that he suffers is because he has an evil twin called Ferrante (an easy way to blame all the problems that a person suffers); Ferrante is a way out to ascribe the problems that a person may face. As Roberto is growing up, there is a sudden upheaval in his life, his father dies in a siege, in the Siege of Casale, the fortress guarding the frontier between Italy and France. Roberto makes his way to France where he suffers from one-way love (and that too with one of the great ladies of France); the novel also describes the colorful and complex situation in France of that time, this is the time when there is a transfer of power happening between Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Mazarin.
However, he is soon forced into booking his passage on a Dutch ship (the Amaryllis) that is on an expedition to find the problems of longitude, and unfortunately for him, he ends up in a shipwreck, and is washed up on another deserted ship, the Daphne. And this is where the title of the book is relevant, since Roberto believes that the ship sits on the International Date Line, and he can look at the previous day from one side of the ship.
The book may seem boring to some, but for others, it is a perfect example of the writings of Umberto Eco. Worth reading, and for many, worth treasuring.

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