Book Review of The Name of the Rose: The Name of the Truth


Imagine a medieval Benedictine monastery, with cellarers, herbalists, gardeners, librarians, young novices. One after the other, half a dozen monks are found murdered in the most bizarre ways, and the reader very quickly finds out that the monastery, supposedly a place of piety and tranquility is the place of sin and corruption. William of Baskerville, a learned Franciscan who is sent to solve the mystery finds himself involved in the frightening events inside the abbey.

This is the story of "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco. It is the year 1327 when William of Baskerville and his young scribe (Adso of Melk, who narrates the story many years later) arrive at the monastery. The monastery contains the greatest library of Christianity. The monks live "by books and for books" (351), however, only the librarian and his assistant are allowed to enter the stacks in the labyrinth of the library. The reason is that there are thousands of books by pagan, Jewish, Arab authors, and the librarian has the sovereign power to decide whose mind is mature enough to view these "heresies" (340). Naturally, the forbidden library, like heaven, becomes the place that all the monks crave for. Strange intrigues develop among the monks, and suddenly turn to murder. A gifted young illuminator, Adelmo, is killed; the next morning a second monk is found dead, plunged head first into a barrel of pigs' blood.

Surprisingly enough, toward the end of the book it turns out that all those horrible crimes were committed for highly ethical reasons. The manuscript that caused the murders is the second part of the ''Poetics'' by Aristotle - the lost book containing his theory of comedy and laughter - has been found in the library and the murderer would do anything to stop the manuscript from being exposed to others.

Before they solve the mystery of the murders, the main characters have to encounter many philosophical questions about faith, the truth of the Christian Church, and the many different truths of numerous heresies. Who is right, the heretics who argue against private ownership in the name of Christ who never owned anything, or the Inquisitors of the Christian Church who burn them alive? The questions and controversies are for the reader to answer, or, rather, to consider, because there are no ultimate solutions. The monastery is the place that seems to breed sinister plots while it supposedly remains one of the best and richest dwellings of the spirit of God. Horrible crimes that take place are committed for very noble purposes. Brother William solves the mystery, like Sherlock Holmes, often having to disobey the rules of the monastery in order to find the murderer. Adso questions whether William, his teacher, has lost his faith. The old biblical problem, whether passion for knowledge is a sin, finds no answer. In this book, all the monks who strove to enter the secrets of the labyrinth of the library in search of knowledge found themselves killed by the fatal book, who poisons its reader at the rate according to how absolved he is by the book.

There are many aspects of the book that might interest different kinds of people. One might read the story as a cheap mystery novel, as a medieval history textbook, or as a book about theologian philosophy. The book is obviously not easy to read if the reader decides to look in all directions offered by the author. However, the narrative is amazingly engaging all throughout the book, which is a compliment for a book full of long descriptions of theological debates, ecclesiastical councils, and politics of the religious leaders of the time.

However, sometimes the characters seem unrealistic. The characters are a mere plot device, they do not seem like real people. It is obvious that Eco talks to the reader with the voice of William, while the reader assumes the position of Adso, who asks questions to make long monologues of William clear. It was very satisfying to see that asks the very questions I had for William in my head. These two characters also have a tendency to indulge into philosophical discussions at the wrong moments. For example, when the library and the monastery burn down in the end of the book, and all the monks