the ever ingenious Umberto Eco draws on the medieval legends surrounding Prester John--a mythical Christian emperor of the Far East--to create a sprawling, picaresque adventure yarn.
The eponymous Baudolino is the book's hero and chief, although deeply unreliable, narrator. After a brief foray into Baudolino's youthful attempts at autobiography, the novel opens in Constantinople in 1204, at the time of the Fourth Crusade. Baudolino has helped Niketas Choniates, the chancellor of the basileus of Byzantium, to flee the city. As the men make their way to safety Baudolino begins to recount, with numerous digressions and contradictions, his extraordinary life story. Born an Italian peasant, Baudolino claims to have been adopted as a boy by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Sent to Paris to learn "the art of saying well that which may or may not be true" Baudolino fell in with a band of good fellows and fell in love with his stepmother. After being embroiled in the canonisation of Charlemagne; finding the sacred remains of the Magi and helping Frederick with a siege or two, Baudolino and chums, armed with the Holy Grail, set off on a particularly monster strewn journey to find the holy Prestor John. Teaming with Eco's customary metafictional games, intellectual jokes and elaborate (and even ludicrous) theological discussions, this novel is possibly his most accessible, and arguably enjoyable, since The Name of the Rose. --Travis Elborough
"Without a doubt the author's most playful book, suffused with an atmosphere of fanciful freedom" La Reppublica (Italy)