Filled with tangled and twisting plot lines, this novel is a challenge to read, but an incredibly rewarding one. The rich writing style of Eco breaths life and vibrancy into a story that would have left me cold were it written by anyone else. Much shorter than his other novels (especially The Name of the Rose), The Island of the Day Before is a tightly woven tapestry of intersecting lives, religions, cultures, and even times.
The main story, if one can really be picked out, is the life of Roberto della Griva, a 17th century Italian nobleman. After his ship sinks in a storm, Roberto finds himself floating next to a different, seemingly abandoned ship. Interspersed throughout Roberto's actions aboard the mystery ship are Roberto's memories of his childhood, the war he fought in, the time he spent in France learning about astronomy and sailing, his mission to find the International Date Line, his loves, and his fears.
This is where Eco's superb ability in storytelling turns this novel from something merely interesting into something spellbinding. Described as an Italian medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, literary critic and novelist (He really is just amazing.), the things that Eco is able to do with words are beyond description. If you love words for the sheer beauty that they can create, you absolutely must read this novel. The thing that sets him apart from other word smiths though, is that Eco maintains a compelling story throughout his amazing wordplay. In one short sentence, Eco tells us, through Roberto, the idea that gave life to this novel:
To survive, we must tell stories."