Long before Dan Brown had dreamed up the “symbologist” that Tom Hanks would play on screen, Umberto Eco had written The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum, novels that play with semiotics without the clumsy plot twists, hackish narrative, or made-for-Hollywood dialogue that litters The Da Vinci Code. In those first two books, Eco’s characters find themselves up against mysterious conspiracies at every turn, whether they’re inventing conspiracy theories that come to life and bite back (as in Foucault’s Pendulum) or stumbling onto nefarious hidden plots (as in The Name of the Rose). In Eco’s newest novel, The Prague Cemetery, to be published in the U.S. on Nov. 8, there’s more of the same. But here, there’s a twist: Every character except the main villain is an actual historical figure; that villain, a fictional forger and all-around creep, invents the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as part of the various political and financial intrigues roiling late-19th century Europe. Eco will discuss the book with novelist Keith Donohue; no word on whether he’ll be toting a fish in his luggage on this book tour, as he did in the title essay for 1995’s How to Travel With a Salmon.
The discussion begins at 7 p.m. at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, 600 I St. NW. $12 in advance, $15 at door, or two tickets free with purchase of book at Politics & Prose Bookstore. (202) 408-3100.