LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The internationally renowned Italian author Umberto Eco has died at the age of 84. His final work "Numero Zero" was published last October. We'll visit now our last conversation with him. Scott Simon spoke with Mr. Eco last fall about "Numero Zero."
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SCOTT SIMON, BYLINE: It's about a Roma journalist named Colonna who's recruited to run a newspaper in the Italy of 1992, a newspaper called Domani, or Tomorrow, because the day it comes out will never be. The publisher intends only to use the paper as a vehicle to concoct nonsense, fuel fantasies and contrive conspiracy theories that could be used to blackmail people of Italy's inner sanctum of power - government, military, finance, the papacy. The book is "Numero Zero," and Umberto Eco, one of the best-selling authors in the world, joins us from Milan. Thanks so much for being with us.
UMBERTO ECO: Thank you, yes.
SIMON: Colonna, your journalist, says I dreamed what all losers dream - about one day writing a book that would bring me fame and fortune.
Does being a loser make him vulnerable to saying yes to the schemes of the publisher??
ECO: All the characters of my novel are losers (laughter). Obviously, you must be a loser in order to work for a newspaper like that (laughter). I'm always fascinated by losers. Also, my "Foucault's Pendulum" - main characters were, in a way, losers.
ECO: They are more interesting than the winners.
SIMON: And why's that?
ECO: They give a more to psychology. And then, in the world, there are more losers than winners, and so (laughter) my readers can identify themselves with the characters.
SIMON: At the heart of the story is a tipster, maybe pointedly named Braggadocio. And he's peddling a story - or maybe more a suspicion that - was Benito Mussolini really killed by Italian partisans then hung upside down along his mistress in the Piazzale Loreto?
ECO: OK, listen. Every fact in my novel is true except the story of Mussolini because Braggadocio is evidently a paranoid devotee of conspiracies. And so I have invented these conspiracies, seems to me pretty evident that Mussolini was shot. But all the other facts that look as incredible are true.
SIMON: Do you want people to read your novel and wonder if they can believe what they see, hear or read in the news?
ECO: Well, somebody has suggested to use my novel in the schools of journalism to teach what journalists shouldn't do. I hope that some reader will become more suspicious and attentive when reading a newspaper.
SIMON: I was struck toward the end of your story when a character says - I'll quote now - (reading) "who was it said the truth shall set you free? You can't go around saying..." - and then he provides a lot of nonsense in there - and then he says (reading) "and people will say, 'oh, really?' It's interesting. And they'll turn around and get on with what they're doing."
To what degree do you share the sentiments of that character, that we read about terrible things and then turn away?
ECO: Oh, yes. In a way, the final moral of my novel is that in 30 years, terrible things happen that - we read about them. But we have remained practically indifferent. And that was the real tragedy, not the fact that the boom blew up or a lot of people died, but that we have remained indifferent.
You know, there is a sickness in the media world. We read on Monday something, and on Tuesday we have already forgot what we have read. That is a real tragedy. News do not affect us in the way they should.
WERTHEIMER: Now we're not - that was Umberto Eco talking to Scott Simon. That was a revisit of the interview which was done in October.
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