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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 October 2002
Renaissance man Umberto Eco continues to enthrall with a return to the era he so masterfully painted in "The Name Of The Rose." An intrepid, nonparallel story teller he again visits the Middle Ages with Baudolino, a marvelous blend of history and imagination.
It is April 1204 and a northern Italian peasant, Baudolino, is in Constantinople, the resplendent capital of the Byzantine Empire. The city staggers under the relentless onslaught of the knights of the Fourth Crusade who pillage and burn. Oblivious to his own safety Baudolino rescues an important personage, a historian from sure death at the hands of the marauding warriors. This is the person to whom Baudolino recounts his life story - a colorful narrative laced with fantasy and adventure.
Although of humble birth, we learn that Baudolino is rich in two areas: the art of inspired prevarication and an aptitude for learning languages. When still a youngster he was adopted by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa who later sent the boy to the university in Paris. Affable and quick, Baudolino soon made friends in France with those who shared his somewhat reckless taste for adventure.
Together a group of them journey to the east and embark upon a search for a mythical priest-king, Prester John. It is believed that Prester John's domain is a fabled land inhabited by eunuchs, unicorns, beautiful maidens, and bizarre beings with misplaced orifices.

As is his wont the unsurpassed Eco weaves his story with ruminations of weighty matters such as theology, politics, government, and history. He does this with fluid prose and provocative thoughts that inevitably draw readers into the author's unique land of enchantment, a magical place that one is reluctant to leave.
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VINE VOICEon 17 December 2002
My experience of Umberto Eco has been mixed - loved 'Name of the Rose', hated ' Island of the Day Before'. However, I consider Baudolino to be a cracking return to form for a talented and inspirational writer.
It is the early C13, and young italian peasant is adopted by the Holy Roman Emperor, setting into motion a chain of events that will have profound consequences on the entirety of Christian Europe.
Eco uses an enteraining narrative to dwell at length upon ideas he also covers in his 'Serendipities'; language, Prester john, lies, and errors that create history. Like George MacDonalnd Fraser, Eco looks at history through the skewed eye of a born cheat, liar and charlatan with a gift for languages and an eye for the ladies. In Baudolino, Eco has created a worthy literary rival to Frasers' 'Flashman' and, like Flashman, Baudolino inadvertently becomes embroiled in great events of his own accidental making.
this is a book for the intellect (Eco doesn't spare you from thinking), the reader (it's trendously well written), and the funny bone (Baudolinos escapades are as funny as anything in Flashman).
Overall, heatily recommended.
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on 9 December 2002
Expect the unexpected from Eco. Playful with words, concepts, and history, Eco will twist your conception of Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa, his court, the third and fourth Crusades, paradise on Earth, religious dogma, relics and their sources, till it becomes difficult to tell the real from the unreal. So much so that when two thirds into the book Eco changes from his variant of history to an out and out Cabellian fantasy, complete with unicorns and other less savory creatures, it comes across as merely another short step in the journey of his accomplished liar and linguist protagonist Baudolino.
And what a main character Baudolino is! For every major historical event, from Barbarossa's sieges and compromises with various Italian cities and popes to the discovery and placement of the Three Magi of Cologne, Baudolino is not only there, he is the major instigator. From the opening of the book, when we meet him as a young boy worming his way into Friedrich's graces with his quick wit and tongue, Baudolino is an engaging rascal, full of himself and his own (justified) ability to turn the course of history with a well crafted falsified parchment here, a poem (as presented as by someone else) there, or a quiet word with the Emperor carefully couched in just the language the Emperor wishes to hear.
But this also brings up one of Eco's major themes of this book, on just what is real and true. If people believe in it, does it matter that the relic worshiped as the Holy Grail is actually a common wooden bowl? If the lie will serve a greater good, is it really a lie? If someone, somewhere, declares that something exists, then does it really have an existence? Where is the line between fantasy and reality? Of course, at the same time that Eco is investigating these points, he is also rather savagely satirizing various religious beliefs and demonstrating the hilarity of the life and death dissension of various religious sects over incredibly tiny differences of interpretation of some element of dogma.
As usual, Eco is not an easy read. Besides his liberal sprinkling of Latin, German, and other languages throughout the text, the ideas and history he is presenting are not for the faint of heart or one totally ignorant of this period. Without at least some knowledge of this historical period and Catholic religious dogma, a good portion of what he is saying will be overlooked. A good dictionary should also be a constant companion while reading this, as he often uses some very uncommon words, and sometimes intends some of the lesser known meanings of other more common words.
There are some elements that don't totally work here. I felt his inclusion of a locked room murder mystery within the main body of the work was not really necessary from either a plot or character development standpoint, and plot elements that are linked to this could have easily been handled differently. This element almost seemed like it was tacked on as an expected thing for an Eco novel. The long fantasy section seemed to go on much too long, with rather tiresome long lists of the various creatures and their characteristics. Most of the characters other than Baudolino seem rather two-dimensional, and if they had been given some further rounding, I think Eco's satirical side could have been sharpened. None of these faults are really major, but they do detract somewhat from what is otherwise an outstanding novel.
Different, difficult, discerning, and ultimately deserving of an attentive read.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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Before you decide if you want to read Baudolino, remember whether you liked Candide or not. If you did, this book will be fun. If you know very much about medieval history, as well, then this book will be a must!
If you did not like Candide, you will probably hate Baudolino.
One of the central tenets of medieval society was loyalty owed to those to whom one was tied by fealty or by custom. Baudolino was a northern Italian peasant, and owed loyalty only to the knights and lords with rights over his father's land. Then, an event intervenes and he becomes bound to Frederick Barbarossa (red beard) who becomes the first Holy Roman Emperor. Baudolino's tale explores that medieval loyalty as a theme in the same exaggerated way that Voltarie used Candide to explore optimism.
While spending time with Niketas Choniates, a high court official in Constantinople, as they flee together from the knights of the Fourth Crusade, Baudolino recounts the Candide-like story of his life from the time he met Frederick.
In the process, the favorite themes of the Middle Ages are all considered including chivalry, romantic love, lust, marriage, the crusades, the relationship between church and state, the rise of the city, clerical practices, religious beliefs, religious relics, traitorous behavior, fascination with heretical beliefs, imaginary animals, magic, alchemy and the Crusades. Each subject is done in a satirical way that reveals a cynical view of how people could (and probably did) turn each matter to practical personal benefit.
Not satisfied with that lampooning accomplishment, Mr. Eco also draws on the styles of Dante, Cervantes, and Swift while making indirect references to their work. For example, you will be amused as Baudolino falls hopelessly in love with the unattainable Beatrice, who in this case is the emperor's wife. In a humorous reference to Candide, Baudolino steals a kiss . . . and has to remove himself from her presence after that.
Within the context of the story, the main historical events are real. Baudolino, like the egotist in us all, builds his tale so that he is the key actor in every event. As they say, success has a thousand fathers while failure has none. The satires on human venality and foibles are unrelenting and almost cynical. I think some would be offended by the fun poked at their own religions here. . . until they realize that Baudolino takes on almost all religions of the time in one place or another in the book.
One of Baudolino's key approaches to solving problems is to manufacture false manuscripts, relics and other evidence that suit his purposes. Despite this, it is a testament to his commitment to Frederick that he takes himself to pursue the mythical Prester John to deliver a false relic that Baudolino helped produce.
For those who are fans of The Name of the Rose, Mr. Eco even includes a locked room mystery that will keep you guessing until the last pages of the book.
I was bowled away by the imagination and ingenuity of the story and the many satirical directions it takes. I would be very surprised if I read a better satire in the next ten years.
After you finish this book, I suggest that you think about where you have put loyalty above the truth. How would someone else see your actions? Would you redo those actions now, if you could?
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on 21 January 2005
This is my third Eco novel. I remain thrilled to the tips of my neurones with The Name of the Rose, but found Foucault's Pendulum utterly impenetrable (and couldn't finish it).
I was prepared to give this one a go because of the favourable comparisons which had been drawn between it and The Name of the Rose. And I'll admit, I actually finished it.
I found the introduction to the plot entertaining and informative: what better backdrop than the burning city of Constantinople? And Baudolino strikes the reader immediately as a character of great charisma: clearly a rogue with some interesting stories to tell.
Sadly, this starts to fall by the wayside as the story begins to lose momentum. Eco starts to digress about all sorts of obscure subjects as we go along. I appreciate some of these are satirical, some humorous, and some interesting, but I found this an irritating habit, and some of his digressions were, to my mind, wasteful.
The main plot begins to gradually fray, as Baudolino recounts increasingly far-fetched episodes: to what end, I was unable to discern. Likewise, minor events early in the book seem to develop their own mysterious yet huge significance later: I wasn't able to understand why Baudolino attached such significance to the Holy Grail, when earlier in the book we already know that it is his own father's wooden serving bowl.
Baudolino meets all sorts of characters as we go through, but they seem featureless and uninspiring, even the fanciful ones (although Frederick and Beatrice both rise a little out of the page).
There is a denoument, but the effort required to reach it (and the number of narrative threads one must keep in mind to appreciate it) overturns the satisfaction of the closure.
Had I been Master Niketas, I would have sent Baudolino packing long since with a large footprint on his backside.
I don't really feel the need to read anything else by Eco. Perhaps bigger brains than mine can derive intellectual delight from reading his little erudite whims cast onto paper. I do think, however, that accessibility and clarity are favourable characteristics of any novel, and Eco has real trouble with these.
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Umberto Eco returns to the world of the middle-ages for this luminous and inspiring novel. Nobody does medieval Europe like Eco. Every detail is right, explanation abounds, but always as if the people of the era are explaining things to each other. Without in any way being dry or academic, Eco puts us right in the middle of the philosophical debates of the age, linking us at first hand to Barbarossa, Abelard and Eloise.
In his preface to the Name of the Rose, Eco says that shifts in literary theory have at last made it again possible for a writer to write simply for the joy of writing, and the reader to read for the joy of reading. This delight in character, story, temperament, culture, context and language comes across just as clearly in Baudolino as it did in the earlier book.
This book _is_ a delight. We had to wait for it for years after the Name of the Rose. We can only hope that Eco goes back to the world of the adventurous medieval scholar again for his next one.
This really is one of the two best modern novels set in the medieval period. It's hard to find comparisons - the Cadfael novels have some similarities but are not in the same league. Some of the children's historical novels by Treece, Treece and Sutcliffe move us in this direction, but, of course, lack the glowing, informed, adult picture that Eco brings to the story. Some of Kipling's stories come perhaps closest, but he never had the depth of detailed knowledge that Eco has.
The only comparison, then, Eco's own Name of the Rose.
There's just one other thing that marks Eco out as being not only master of this genre but also of others. Both this and the Name of the Rose are narratives within narratives, framed through manuscript fragments. As well as being cracking good stories, they are essays in Eco's own field of semiotics. For those that want them to be, Name of the Rose and Baudolino are as questioningly post-modern as they come.
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on 17 June 2004
Baudolino is the medieval equivalent of Baron Munchausen and Don Quixote. Teller of tall tales. Prof. Eco weaves an amazing yarn that imbues medieval history (the 12th century crusade, the sacking of Byzantine, Frederick the Great's death) and the fantastic (the numerous flora and fauna of the land of Prestor John).
Absolutely mesmerizing. As with Eco's previous novels, be armed with a history encyclopaedia, it helps in understanding some of the backdrops and narratives.
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One of the central tenets of medieval society was loyalty owed to those to whom one was tied by fealty or by custom. Baudolino was a northern Italian peasant, and owed loyalty only to the knights and lords with rights over his father's land. Then, an event intervenes and he becomes bound to Frederick Barbarossa (red beard) who becomes the first Holy Roman Emperor. Baudolino's tale explores that medieval loyalty as a theme in the same exaggerated way that Voltarie used Candide to explore optimism.
While spending time with Niketas Choniates, a high court official in Constantinople, as they flee together from the knights of the Fourth Crusade, Baudolino recounts the Candide-like story of his life from the time he met Frederick.
In the process, the favorite themes of the Middle Ages are all considered. Each subject is done in a satirical way that reveals a cynical view of how people could (and probably did) turn each matter to practical personal benefit.
Not satisfied with that lampooning accomplishment, Mr. Eco also draws on the styles of Dante, Cervantes, and Swift while making indirect references to their work.
Within the context of the story, the main historical events are real. Baudolino, like the egotist in us all, builds his tale so that he is the key actor in every event. As they say, success has a thousand fathers while failure has none. The satires on human venality and foibles are unrelenting and almost cynical. I think some would be offended by the fun poked at their own religions here. . . until they realize that Baudolino takes on almost all religions of the time in one place or another in the book.
For those who are fans of The Name of the Rose, Mr. Eco even includes a locked room mystery that will keep you guessing until the last pages of the book.
I was bowled away by the imagination and ingenuity of the story and the many satirical directions it takes. I would be very surprised if I read a better satire in the next ten years.
After you finish this book, I suggest that you think about where you have put loyalty above the truth. How would someone else see your actions? Would you redo those actions now, if you could?
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on 19 November 2006
People are too concerned with coming across as intellectuall and intelligent when reviewing books, this trait is all too obvious when one reads reviews of Eco' work.

Baudolino to me was a magnificent piece of writing, not because Eco wrote about his own soul but because his soul wrote a book. I challenge anyone to be able to create something quite so complex yet compelling and readable.

The character of Baudolino I believe, is a part of everyone, something that they are proud of yet cannot quite tap into, Master Niketas for me symbolising that realistic objectivity that was sometimes lost on Baudolino.

If you want to read a novel about Life, about Byzantium, about the world that made ours then Baudolino is the novel for you, for the spirit that induced Christians to kill Christians in 1204 is the same one that haunts our tube stations and airport waiting lounges now in 2006.

This book is an incredibly well written piece of work that like all Eco's books is more than one might assume it would be. I urge all who have an inquisitive mind to try Baudolino, I'm sure it wont dissapoint.
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One of the central tenets of medieval society was loyalty owed to those to whom one was tied by fealty or by custom. Baudolino was a northern Italian peasant, and owed loyalty only to the knights and lords with rights over his father's land. Then, an event intervenes and he becomes bound to Frederick Barbarossa (red beard) who becomes the first Holy Roman Emperor. Baudolino's tale explores that medieval loyalty as a theme in the same exaggerated way that Voltarie used Candide to explore optimism.
While spending time with Niketas Choniates, a high court official in Constantinople, as they flee together from the knights of the Fourth Crusade, Baudolino recounts the Candide-like story of his life from the time he met Frederick.
In the process, the favorite themes of the Middle Ages are all considered. Each subject is done in a satirical way that reveals a cynical view of how people could (and probably did) turn each matter to practical personal benefit.
Not satisfied with that lampooning accomplishment, Mr. Eco also draws on the styles of Dante, Cervantes, and Swift while making indirect references to their work.
Within the context of the story, the main historical events are real. Baudolino, like the egotist in us all, builds his tale so that he is the key actor in every event. As they say, success has a thousand fathers while failure has none. The satires on human venality and foibles are unrelenting and almost cynical. I think some would be offended by the fun poked at their own religions here. . . until they realize that Baudolino takes on almost all religions of the time in one place or another in the book.
For those who are fans of The Name of the Rose, Mr. Eco even includes a locked room mystery that will keep you guessing until the last pages of the book.
I was bowled away by the imagination and ingenuity of the story and the many satirical directions it takes. I would be very surprised if I read a better satire in the next ten years.
After you finish this book, I suggest that you think about where you have put loyalty above the truth. How would someone else see your actions? Would you redo those actions now, if you could?
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