By Matthew E. Milliken
March 31, 2014
The Island of the Day Before, the 1994 novel by Italian author Umberto Eco, is likely the most complicated book I have ever read from start to finish.
The convoluted tale opens with a most unlikely coincidence: Roberto della Griva washes up onto a deserted ship moored off an island in the Pacific Ocean in the middle of the 17th century. Della Griva is the sole survivor of the Amaryllis, having been lashed to a makeshift raft by a sailor aboard that vessel amidst a violent storm. By some strange fortune, waves cary him to the Daphne, a seemingly abandoned Dutch expeditionary vessel.
Our protagonist is the lone heir of a minor nobleman who grows up on a large rural estate in territory that is variously ruled by French, Italian and Spanish forces. War summons a teenaged della Griva and his father from their quiet existence and claims the life of the elder man. Thus unmoored from home and family, the imaginative and fanciful Roberto is freed to pursue lively (and sometimes dreary) adventures — first in the salons of Paris and then on the far side of the world.