Eco returns to the Middle Ages with Baudolino - a wondrous, provocative, beguiling tale of history, myth, and invention. It is April, 1204, and Constantinople, the splendid capital of the Byzantine Empire, is being sacked and burned by the knights of the fourth Crusade. Amid the carnage and confusion, one Baudolino saves a Byzantine historian and high court official from certain death at the hands of the crusading warriors, and proceeds to tell his own fantastical story. Born a simple peasant in northern Italy, Baudolino has two major gifts - a talent for learning foreign languages and skill in telling lies. One day, when still a boy, he met a foreign commander in the woods, charming him with his quick wit and lively mind. The commander - who proves to be the emperor Frederick Barbarossa - adopts Baudolino and sends him to the university in Paris, where he makes a number of fearless, adventurous friends. Spurred on by myths and their own reveries, this merry band sets out in search of Prester John, a legendary priest-king who was said to rule over a vast kingdom in the East - a phantasmagorical land of strange creatures with eyes on their shoulders and mouths on their stomachs, of eunuchs, unicorns, and lovely maidens. As always with Eco, this abundant novel includes dazzling digressions, outrageous tricks, pages of extraordinary feeling and poetry, and vicarious reflections on our postmodern age. Baudolino is an utterly marvelous tale by the inimitable author of The Name of the Rose.
This is the life story of one Baudolino, a man who dedicated his life to searching for Prester John and the Grasal, and tells of the many places he saw and people he met in the meantime. Religion and history, always one of my favourite mixtures :)
The story opens with the sack of Constantinople. A noble man, Niketas, is caught outside and is in danger of being killed by the hordes when he is rescued by Baudolino. In exchange for the safety of him and his family, Niketas records Baudolino's story which begins when he is adopted by Emperor Frederick.
Along with the story of how he becomes acquainted with his cohorts Abdul, the Poet, Boron, Rabbi Solomon, Kyot, Zosimos, and Ardzrouni. Along with concocting a story to get them on the road to find Prester John, they also have lively discussions about scientific and religious matters.
Baudolino is a charming liar. Even as we see him weave his tales we enjoy his naivete and faith that things around him are true and real. While some books have amazing first lines, I feel the final lines of this book, while gentle, have a huge and powerful truth that made me very happy that I have read this book.
A friend recommended this to me about five years ago. Yeah, okay, see there was this problem because I read a review that described the main character as a "sad clown." Which obviously led to a revulsion that prevented me from even touching the book, because you know, sad clown. It turns out the reviewer was on drugs and the moral of the story is that you should always listen to friends who recommend books. This book rocked my socks -- it's got a grail quest and crusades and Barbarossa and mirrors of Archimedes and the manufacture of holy relics and Prester John, and it's funny as all get out.
Recommended: to people who like historical fiction (it helps if your geek is at the level where you get excited whenever you have cause to exclaim "Oh, it's the Comneni!" like they just dropped by for coffee or something) and the late medieval worldview.
I liked The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, but this novel was easily the most fun to read. Loads of humour and pathos + brain candy = a rare find, but here it is. As with the author's other novels there is much playfulness incorporating European legends of the Middle Ages, here centered mostly upon the mythical realm of Prester John, and the Holy Grail.
The narrator is wonderfully unreliable by his own confession. He openly admits to viewing lying as bringing things into being, merely by bearing false witness to them. There's an interesting, sharply defined progression from the first half of the story when Baudolino could be given benefit of the doubt (as what he says fits well with historical fact), into the latter half where he is clearly making everything up. Ironically Niketas appears to find his tale more credible in this latter half, even as it becomes increasingly wondrous (a similar theme was apparent in Foucault's Pendulum).
Regardless of the facts or fiction contained in Baudolino's story, it always conveys a great deal of heart and he is eminently likeable as a character to the last. The author has taught us love for a liar, and respect for a liar's method of introducing wonder into the world, not unlike my appreciation for this talented writer.
Overall this book should appeal to those with an interest in the medieval times, fans of the author, and those who like a sprawling adventure story.
a teller of tall tales and general scoundrel our hero is likable but not to be taken without skepticism.
a rollicking read, enjoyable if stilted at times.
As the story opens, Constantinople is being sacked in 1204 and the hero of this novel, Baudolino, is telling his dear friend Niketas Choniates, who, as it turns out, is the most famous chronicler of these events. As Baudolino begins his tale, it takes the reader back in time to when he was just a child, the son of a peasant family in what is now Italy. By some bizarre chance, he encountered the famous Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (so called for his red beard) and again by chance, became his adopted son. The story continues through the sacking of the city, as Baudolino relates his very bizarre life and the odd things that happened to him before he arrived in Constantinople. The problem is that Baudolino himself knows that he is an accomplished liar. No matter; this story will keep you entertained for hours. It is funny, sarcastic, full of an H. Rider Haggard type of adventure, and the ending is probably the most ironic of any book I've come across lately. Please don't miss this one; it is one of the most intelligent things I have had the pleasure of reading in a long time. Highly recommended if you want something out of the ordinary.
In the Name of the Rose (for those who read it) there is a special book that is the cause for the problems. I can not remember the title it was given but I do remember the description and Baudolino could very well be the book descriped.
This book was written from the point of view someone who's maps still had around the edges Monsters depicting the unknown lands and seas.
Baudolino is a young man (at least, at the beginning of the tale) who has two noteworthy talents: he can learn any language after minimal exposure, even a brief conversation; he is also a liar par excellence. He becomes a favorite of Emperor Frederik, who sends the youth to Paris for an education. While there, Baudolino begins forming friendships with an unlikely group of people - a rabbi, a knight known as The Poet, an infidel, amongst others. Together they create evidence of the existence of Prester John, who was (mythologically speaking) a great Christian priest/king who ruled over a huge kingdom east of the lands of the Moorish infidels. Ultimately, Baudolino and his band of followers undertake to find Prester John, initially to legitimatize the rule of Emperor Frederik, but really to prove that he does, in fact, exist.
Unlike Eco's other works, Baudolino lacks much of the high-powered scholastic verbosity that permeates most of his other writings. That's not to say there are no extended exegeses here, but this is perhaps the most accessible book Eco has written. It is witty, intelligent and captivating. If you have avoided Eco because of the extensive scholastic passages he is prone to write, Baudolino is the book for you.
I highly recommend this book.
The main thrust is the use of the Prester John myth as a political tool for Barbarossa's attempts to expand his power, but as with most of Eco's work, people soon start believing their own tales, and the protagonists set off on a quest for John's mythical kingdom, where all kinds of mythological and quasi-historical madness ensues. If you like Eco's other stuff, you'll definitely enjoy this one too.
Style: An easy narrative voice that makes learned discourses enjoyable and exotic imaginings plausible.
Notes: see pages 232 and 518 on the crux of life's decisions.
The text meanders, to say the least. For me, as with David Liss's books, it's enough just to pick up the look and feel of the period--how people made houses or designed new cities, the food and clothing, the languages, the organization of a medieval university (that would be Paris), etc. Then there's the constant near state-of-war between Italian peoples that, after all are linguistically or ethnically very close--like so many peoples of Asia today!
But there's also a re-telling or re-twisting of real history. I did read about this period in my 20s--the names of popes and warrior kings, the religious arguments, Nestorians, the two popes period, etc. are somewhat familiar --but for sure this book would have been better enjoyed after a recent skim of a history book. You'd also be better equipped to catch the blasphemous or heretical assertions. Did I mention that it's often funny?
Nonetheless, believe it or not, this is a very entertaining book to carry around when you're on the move or constantly interrupted. There really aren't that many characters. Or, maybe there are but the book moves so sedately that you can pick it up whenever and immediately remember the situation and cast of current characters.
Eco is showing us that religious myths arise from political need to suit the requirements of the actors on history’s stage; that history is story and story is exaggeration, and exaggerations are really just plain lies invented by the more intelligent among us to suit the occasion or solve a problem.
An unreliable narrator is employed to illustrate the unreliable nature of history, which deals in facts, and religious history, which deals in a tissue of fantastic myths and superstitions largely concocted to give provenance to false “relics” that meant economic and political power accrued to the cities and rulers who held them. Masterful, gargantuan tale tracing the adventures of Baudolino from his adoption by Barbarossa after his father sells him, to his education in Paris, to his days of ghost-writing poetry, to his exploits as Barbarossa’s envoy/spy, to his yearnings for the mythical kingdom of Prester John, to his love for a Gnostic sylph, to his deeds as a Crusader and sacker of cities.
Don’t look for an easy read when reading Eco; hang on for the ride and try to keep up if the story, with all it digressions, seems to get away from you. Great book -- almost but not quite as good as "The Name of the Rose" -- by one of the greatest living authors of our time.