A Resounding Eco

Umberto Eco looks like a genial mentor, white-bearded and approachable, his comfortable rotundity settled deep in the softest armchair of his Milan living room. Yet the 73-year-old academic and author, condemned to international celebrity by his 1980 debut novel The Name of the Rose, is not without thorns. Today's discourse — ranging from his newest work of fiction, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, to politics, religion and neckties — bristles with sharp observations. Avuncular he may seem, but this famous European intellectual has not mellowed with age.

Age, memory and nostalgia are, however, the central themes of...