Baudolino is the title and name of main character in the newest Umberto Eco novel. Taking the reader back to one of his favorite scenarios, late XII century Europe, the book captivates with novelty, that goes in a crescendo towards its end.

Starting at a small countryside, in Baudolino's childhood, Baudolino excels already at what he does best: lying. And is with his early lies that he gets the trust of Frederick Barbarossa. Therefore, he becomes a kind of Forrest Gump character, being behind much of the historical facts of that time. For that matter, the historical facts that take place in the book's history are accurate, but, behind the scenes,there was the lies of Baudolino leading to them.

As the characters in the book travel east, in a quest related with the holy grail, towards the kingdon of the Prester John the events, encounters and lands described become more and more fantastic. It does not differ of the records brought to us by Marco Polo in that matter. Whoever reads his writings will find similar fantastic and unbelievable people in the far east.

Just after reading it, I read an academic book on the crusades, covering the same period. Eco's job flesh out the era in a way these more academic texts just can't do, when it comes down to the living in cities, the nature of the conflicts of the German Emperor with the Catholic Church or with the City States located where modern Italy would be.

Therefore, I recommend not just as an excellent reading, but as a must for anyone who have this feeling that what he knows about that time and place is just too dry, or lacking details.


by Umberto Eco, Translated by William Weaver
Harcourt Books, 528 Pages
ISBN: 0151006903


William Weaver returns once again to translate into English Italy's foremost author and semiotician in this wild and unpredictable romp through the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Lies are the subject; lies and history. Since Herotodus first put his histories into print, these two subjects have been inextricably linked. Thus it is hardly surprising that there are so many parallels that can be drawn between the The Histories and Baudolino. The chief difference is that Baudolino doesn't try to present itself as fact.


Baudolino begins our tale as an old man, recalling his many adventures to a Byzantine minister of state (namely Niketas Choniates, author of O City of Byzantium) as the crusaders are sacking Constantinople. He starts by discussing his childhood, and how he came to be the adopted son of Frederick Barbarossa. The tale moves quickly along to his encounters with the Holy Grail, his adventures on the third crusade, and the search for the elusive Nestorian Kingdom of Prester John.


This is one of those rare and wonderful books that will grab you and not let go until you close the back cover. While it lacks the strange mystery aspect of his earlier novels--The Name of the Rose and Focault's Pendulum-- it still has the ability to keep you guessing. Since the story is supposedly a lie within a lie within a lie, it's all you can do to figure out which parts are supposed to be true. And just when you think the narrator has you steeped up to your eyeballs in falsehoods, some link comes through to validate part of the story and keep you guessing.

The introductory comparison I made with Herodotus was not accidental either. Most of the last half of the book comprises the search for the legendary Prester John, which involves Baudolino and his band of companions (parading as the Magi) travelling into India and farther east. The cast of characters they meet in these heretofore unexplored lands remind me very much of parts of The Histories, as there are one legged men, one eyed giants, people with no discernable head, satyrs, and so forth.

As light as the subject matter sounds, it is still a heavy read. This is Umberto Eco we're talking about, after all. Truly, though, I don't know who the real genius is. William Weaver has translated all four of Eco's novels into English, and I can't read Italian, so it's hard to say if Weaver is faithfully translating a master work, or turning a good story into a masterpiece through his own linguistic talents. Either way, you should be prepared to completely lose yourself in this book, as it's not likely to allow you to set it down once you've started.

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