The novels of Umberto Eco are a difficult read (I declare that without proof or analysis), but they are worth the effort. In my opinion, that is especially true for his first two novels: The Name of the Rose (1980) and Foucault’s Pendulum (1988). Both novels are complex mysteries set in the Middle Ages, which is a sure-fire setting to get my attention. Besides loving mysteries, I enjoy novels that have connections to libraries or book publishing. So these two novels were “preaching to the choir” in my case.
I took away from Rose a better understanding of the Middle Ages and from Pendulum a better understanding of the corruptive power of conspiracy theories. Well, because I enjoyed these novels I was pre-disposed to like Eco’s third novel, The Island of the Day Before, but the novel failed to capture my interest. Then came the 4th novel—Baudolino –in which Eco returned to the late Middle Ages, the time of mythical Prestor John, knights in armor and the sacking of great cities.
Browsing in a Guadalajara, Mexico bookstore, I came across the newly published Baudolino in Spanish and thought “Maybe the translation of Eco’s Italian into Spanish is more faithful to the original than is the translation into English. I bought the book without seriously browsing its pages.
Imagine my surprise at seriously scanning the opening lines:
Ratispone Anno Dommini Domini mense decembri mclv kronico Baudolini apelido de Aulario
These lines, written by the illiterate Baudolino, are neither Spanish nor Italian nor any known language. They seem to give the year in Roman Numerals, MCLV, and “Chronicle of Baudolino Aulario”. Maybe this could be rendered: “Year of our Lord 1155, The Chronicle of Baudolino of the family Aulario”. Not exactly a memorable line, but as written by Eco, it does get the reader’s attention.
Plunging into Baudolino, I quickly discovered that my Spanish was not up to the complexity of the novel. I got bogged down and finally lost the thread of the story about the middle of the book so I put it aside.
Sometime later I received a copy of Baudolino in English translation. The first line was not much improved:
Rattisbon Anno Dommini Domini mense decembri mclv Chronicle of Baudolino of the family of Aulario
This meaning is a little easier to decipher than in the Spanish translation given above. The word “Ratisbon” remains a mystery to me—it could refer to the German city of Regensburg, which was historically called Ratisbon.
After some effort, I abandoned the reading of the English translation of Baudolino, but I’ve not given up the hope of finishing one or the other version.
But, this blog is about eliminating books from the library, deaccession, and the question is whether or not to make a little space by removing one of these volumes. On reflection, I can’t force myself to make that decision now, so both editions go back to the shelves while I look elsewhere for books to purge.
The deaccession count: Posts 6, Books 13.
Note: For more on the ancient city of Regensburg check out the article in Wiki.