Umberto Eco, , trans. from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock. . Harcourt, $28 (469pp) ISBN 978-0-15-101140-7

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THE MYSTERIOUS FLAME OF QUEEN LOANA Umberto Eco , trans. from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock. Harcourt , $28 (464p) ISBN 0-15-101140-0

When aging Italian book-dealer Yambo, hero of this engaging if somewhat bloodless novel of ideas, regains consciousness after a mysterious coma, he suffers a peculiar form of amnesia. His "public" memory of languages, everyday routines, history and literature remains intact, but his autobiographical memory of personal experiences—of his family, lovers, childhood, even his name—is gone. He can spout literary and cultural allusions on any topic, citing everything from Moby-Dick to Star Trek , but complains, "I don't have feelings, I only have memorable sayings." To recover his past, he repairs to his boyhood home to peruse a cache of memorabilia amassed in his youth during Mussolini's reign and WWII, consisting of comic books, schoolbooks, Fascist propaganda, popular music, romantic novels and his own poetry about an unattainable high school beauty. The setup allows semiotician and novelist Eco (The Name of the Rose , etc.) to indulge his passion for pulp materials by reproducing such objects as movie posters, song lyrics and a graphic novella rendering the Book of Revelation as a Flash Gordon melodrama, with intriguing asides on cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind thrown in. The result has a somewhat academic feel, but it's an absorbing exploration of how that most fundamental master-narrative, our memory, is pieced together from a bricolage of pop culture. Illus. Author tour. (June)