Umberto Eco

Children’s Books

The Bomb and the General

Art by Eugenio Carmi. Translated by William Weaver.

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989, ISBN 0-15-209700-7; Hardcover $12.95. Out of print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

Published in 1966 as La bomba e il generale and revised in 1988. Comments or reviews are welcome.

The Three Astronauts

Art by Eugenio Carmi. Translated by William Weaver.

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989, ISBN 0-15-286383-4; Hardcover $15.00. [Browse/Purchase]

Published in 1966 as I tre cosmonauti and revised in 1988, this is a very interesting little book about three astronauts – an American, a Russian, and a Chinese – who all individually depart Earth at the same time on a mission to Mars. Arriving at their destination simultaneously, at first they consider each other to be foreigners and rivals; but the lonely condition on the alien world makes them realize that their differences are inconsequential when compared to what they have in common. This is reinforced when they meet a Martian, and not understanding its strange ways they discover that their enmity has shifted from each other to the real alien – but of course, they soon discover that this strange creature has emotions just as familiar as their own.
The illustrations in the book are by award-winning artist Eugenio Carmi, and consist of colorful watercolors and montages. Surreal and symbolic, the artwork nicely accompanies Eco’s tale of understanding and compassion on another world. The astronauts are depicted by swatches of colored paper rather than as people; the American as a multicolored box of Chiclets, the Russian a red clipping from Pravda, and the Chinese as a yellow ideogram. Other than obviously standing in for whole nations, the overall effect is rather clever, and adds a sort of haunting quality to their lonely sojourn on the planet. The actual Martian is quite cute in a disturbingly alien kind of way, and it is remarkable how you begin to feel sympathy for it considering it is just an expressionless green head on top of a multi-armed torso.
I haven’t heard the reaction of any children yet, but I kinda like it....

Gli gnomi di Gnu

Art by Eugenio Carmi.

Bompiani, 1992, ISBN 88-452-1885-6

This third collaboration with artist Eugenio Carmi has yet to be translated into English. Comments or reviews are welcome.

Red Bar

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–Allen B. Ruch
7 November 2004