Reviewed by Ambrea
After suffering a major stroke, Yambo is faced with a terrifying crisis: he can’t remember anything. He can’t remember who he is or what he’s done with the last forty years; he can’t remember the names and faces of his children, his wife, his mother or father or sister; and he certainly can’t recall even a glimpse of his own childhood. Yambo, however, remembers every book he’s ever read.
Facing with this gaping memory loss, Yambo goes in search of all the things he read as a child and all the journals he kept—all in the hope of stirring some spark within him, some mysterious flame of recognition. His story, now as an old man, is not a tale of self-discovery but of rediscovery as he struggles to remember who he was, who he is, and how he came to be there.
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is a book full of helpful illustrations and beautiful imagery. In this book, Umberto Eco commands a superb vocabulary (although I can likely thank the translator, Geoffrey Brock, for his contributions, as well) and reveals he has a capacity for detailed description that’s difficult to rival, and he creates such a wonderful narrator in Yambo. Witty and sarcastic—and frequently sardonic—Yambo is bright and highly aware of his surroundings. Short of what he’s forgotten with his stroke, Yambo doesn’t miss much and he’s able to express so much more.
Yambo is a fabulous narrator not only because he’s observant, but because he’s able to communicate with his readers so successfully. He can express uncertainty and fear just as well as he can express happiness, joy, passion, and fondness. His emotional spectrum is laid bare, his thoughts and feelings are candid, unfiltered, which makes him accessible. As readers, we can clearly understand him and find that maybe—just maybe—he can understand us.
However, I will note that this is a novel about a man who has completely lost his memories and, as time goes by, his mind. As such, I began to realize that not everything Yambo does or says is clearly defined; in fact, his thoughts can sometimes prove elusive and confusing when he makes sincere attempts to reclaim the scattered bits of his memory. More to the point, Yambo’s mind starts to spiral out of control. In one chapter, I faced a virtual “sensory overload” with all the stories, memories, songs, and images begin to converge all at once.
I found there’s sometimes too much to process, too much to understand, which makes The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana a confusing and bewildering—and slightly overwhelming—novel to read. And, personally, I didn’t really need the added benefit of detailed descriptions on preserved dog testicles or musings on human defecation.
Just saying, it was a little awkward.