The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the most influential anti-Semitic book ever published. Purporting to be the minutes of a top-level secret meeting to map out the Jews’ plans for world domination, it was exposed as a Czarist forgery within a decade and a half of its original 1905 publication in Moscow. Yet no one has ever determined its exact author. Enter Umberto Eco, the Italian scholar and polymath best known for his 14th-century murder mystery The Name of the Rose (1983). In The Prague Cemetery (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 437 pages, trans. Richard Dixon), his learned and fascinating sixth novel, Eco spins an intricate web of story and scheming around the question of the Protocols’ authorship.
Eco’s conceit is that the author is Simone Simonini, a character he has invented—a notary, forger, plagiarist, spy, and murderer who lives in Paris in the mid-to-late 19th century, earning a livelihood by fabricating documents for anyone with money to pay and reason to dissemble. Simonini lives by the motto “Odi ergo sum. I hate therefore I am.” He hates the Freemasons, the Jesuits, and most of all the Jews.