NEW YORK (Reuters) - Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco hopes embattled Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will be gone from office within a week in a welcome end to a long nightmare.
“In a week, Berlusconi will probably be obliged to resign. It is the end of a nightmare,” Eco, 79, said in an interview to promote his latest book, “The Prague Cemetery”, which will be released in the United States on Tuesday.
Berlusconi was under pressure from his PDL party to resign over the weekend as confidence in the 75 year-old media giant waned amid a growing political and economic crisis that threatens to further destabilize Europe’s economy.
“We would have had this economic crisis without Berlusconi, but the problem would have been lighter. He is not respected abroad, and so cannot represent the country,” said an ebullient Eco, waving a thin, unlit cigar between his fingers.
While Berlusconi’s tenure has been tarnished by sex scandals, it is the country’s dire finances that could topple the billionaire leader, who has held office on three separate occasions since 1994.
“If Berlusconi disappears tomorrow, the troubles will not be over, but at least in the international forum Italy will be dealt with with respect,” said Eco, whose 1980 novel, “In the Name of the Rose”, sold millions of copies worldwide.
Still, Eco fears any political alternative to Berlusconi might not be much better.
“The opposition is as sick as Berlusconi. They are fighting one against the other, so they are unable to offer an appealing alternative. This is the second tragedy of the story.”
Eco, who in 1981 received Italy’s highest literary accolade, the Premio Strega, has just published his sixth novel, “The Prague Cemetery”, a historical adventure published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the U.S.
The book, which became a worldwide bestseller, centers around a forger who is behind the notorious historical document that becomes the foundation for anti-Semitism across Europe: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Eco didn’t start writing novels until his late 40s, after a successful academic career including a long list of non-fiction books and essays left him seeking new challenges.
“At a certain moment, I decided to write a story. I had no more small children to tell them stories,” Eco said, perched on the edge of a chair, casually dressed in a tweed jacket, denim shirt and knitted tie.
Was he surprised by the success of his writing career?
“When one starts writing a book, especially a novel, even the humblest person in the world hopes to become Homer,” the honorary American Academy of Arts and Letters member said nonchalantly.
Despite his years, and a personal library of 50,000 books, some more than 500 years old, Eco embraces the changes brought by electronic books and e-readers such the Kindle or the iPad.
He recently lugged 10 books on a recent two-week trip to Germany and Sweden, and learned from his mistake. For his U.S. book tour, Eco loaded 20 novels onto his iPad.
Still, he said, nothing quite compares to the real thing.
“To read a paper book is another experience: you can do it on a ship, on the branch of a tree, on your bed, even if there is a blackout,” he said. “It is like, would you rather have your beloved with you, or her photograph.”
Reporting by Edward McAllister; editing by Chris Michaud and Bob Tourtellotte