While an occasional song, name or photo stir up a minor flame of vague recollection, what we and Yambo discover is that he is not recapturing his memories. Rather, he is reliving the experiences of an entire generation. And that is perhaps the biggest problem with the book. Originally published in Italy last year, we revisit the experiences of Eco and his contemporaries as they grew up in Italy following the rise of fascism and through World War II. While perhaps appealing to those with an interest in that aspect of Italian history and culture, a significant portion of the references and allusions are obscure to an American reader. (In fact, an English language web site has been set up simply to annotate them all.)
Overall, Eco is a fine enough writer that he keeps the reader interested enough to stay with the book to see what Yambo may resurrect. However, he overplays fog as a theme for Yambo's memory problems and having Yambo search through a cob-webbed attic also seems a trite vehicle for a hunt for lost memories. Ultimately, we discover the core search is for Yambo's first love, a search that comprises the final part of the book and whose culmination is told largely in illustrated novel form.
Some may find Queen Loana's combination of a search for identity with a popular culture review of mid-20th century Italian history. To me, the thought-provoking exploration of the former was overwhelmed by Eco's tour of his youth.