The Name of the Rose

Illustration of Apocalypse is front dust jacket image
14th century view of apocalypse

The Name of the Rose, one of the world’s all-time best-selling novels, is a fascinating Italian novel that most American readers will set aside before they finish chapter one.

The 14th century setting in which author Umberto Eco sets his tale is half the novel’s story.

In 1327, Italy was part of the Holy Roman Empire beset by religious and political turmoil. Two competing emperors had recently been elected; the real winner will be the one the Pope chooses.

The Pope has his own problems: People are increasingly vocal about the church’s immense wealth and power.

The Pope’s picked men are scheduled to arrive soon for a theological disputation—a debate to establish truth— at a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy where a monk has died under suspicious circumstances.

The abbot has summoned Brother William of Baskerville, a Franciscan friar to investigate. Brother William brings young Adso of Melk, a Benedictine novice, to assist him.

For a week, there’s a bizarre death a day for the pair to solve.

Eco adheres to the familiar hero and sidekick pattern, but the setting, culture, and passages in Latin will turn off American readers who lack the background and the curiosity to read demanding European fiction.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Translator: William Weaver
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ©1983. 502 p.
1983 bestseller #7. My grade: B

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Saracen Blade is dull and dumb

Frank Yerby’s speciality is novels about men and women who rise from poverty to wealth, fame, and marital bliss through their brilliance, loyalty, and sexual prowess.

Yerby sets The Saracen Blade in the 13th century. Pietro di Donati, a blacksmith’s son, is born on the same day and in same town as the baby who will become Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire.

In that era, the aristocracy ruled by violence, usually having become aristocrats by violence. Though slightly built, inclined to intellectual rather than physical pursuits, Pietro becomes part of the violent world in which kingdoms clash, religions compete, and the poor suffer the consequences.

Pietro seeks his fortune in the only way boys of his era know: attaching himself to powerful knight and hoping to rise with him. For 30 years, he trudges around Europe, North Africa, and Asia as squire, knight, Crusader and trader. He pauses occasionally to admire the women and to retch when someone other than himself inflicts mayhem.

When Pietro finally gets back home, his childhood sweetheart is waiting. By that time, I was ready to retch.

I recommend reading the appendix. Yerby’s notes are better than his novel.

The Saracen Blade
Frank Yerby
Dial Press (book club edition), 1952
1952 Bestseller #9
295 pages + notes
My grade: C
©2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni