When 60-ish Milanese book dealer Giambattista Bodoni ( Yambo to his friends and family) awakens from a coma, he finds himself in possession of only part of his memory: he has totally forgotten his wife and children; he remembers nothing of his childhood or his parents; he doesn't even know his own name. On the plus side, he remembers languages, everyday routines such as tying a tie or driving a manual-shift car and copious quantities of trivia concerning movies, books and poetry. In effect, he knows all the things that other people know, but none of the things that are unique to him.

Yambo decides to spend several weeks in his old family home, in an attempt to discover whether any of the familial artifacts will help him to recover his memory. He rifles through boxes of old schoolbooks, newspapers, photo albums and diaries, and in the process, begins to relearn who he was. However, as Italian author Umberto Eco points out, memory can be elusive at the best of times, and Yambo's task takes on surreal overtones as he redefines his life through the pop culture of his formative years. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is deeply cerebral, yet remarkably accessible a book that requires a chapter's reading, then a similar period of time for reflection before returning to the text. As always, Eco (Baudelino, The Name of the Rose) delights his fans with an intellectual's take on nostalgia, humor and the troubling questions that have challenged humankind for generations.

Bruce Tierney writes from his home on Prince Edward Island.

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