37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
The turbulent years of the early Reformation are the focus of this novel of ideas written by four young people who call themselves, jointly, "Luther Blissett." Thomas Muntzer, a leader of the Anabaptists, believes that Martin Luther has become too close to the prince bishops, from whom he accepts protection, to be an effective leader. Gustav Metzger, the speaker, is one of Muntzer's followers, accompanying him during the trauma of the Peasants' Revolt (1524 - 26), which Luther opposes, and serving as an on-the-scene observer. When the revolt fails, villages are leveled, the rebels are put to the sword, and many of the leaders of the revolt are arrested, tortured, and then beheaded.
The revolt fails, in part, because of a spy named Qoelet (Q), whose diaries and letters to Cardinal Gianpietro Carafa, reveal his duplicitous actions. As the Anabaptist speaker escapes from one bloody crisis after another, changing his name whenever he changes locations, Q tries to track him down and to counteract the increasingly dangerous effects of Protestantism. Each of the speaker's failures is related to Q's countermoves, as the speaker travels throughout Germany to Switzerland and the Low Countries, following the spread of ideas. Twenty-five years after surviving the Peasants' Revolt and vicious reprisals against the Reformation everywhere he travels, the speaker, now known as Tiziano Rinato (Titian), arrives in Venice with the financing he needs to distribute "heretical" pamphlets. He and Q finally meet for a showdown.
The authors' casual, slangy style, filled with profanities, conveys the frustration and trauma of these four-hundred-year old events in a language with which the contemporary reader can easily identify. United primarily through the beliefs of the Reformation, the novel is episodic and not particularly suspenseful because the tension between the speaker and Q is not strong. These men do not know each other, and neither the reader nor the speaker can see Q's maneuverings until after the fact.
The complex events of the early Reformation have shaped the intellectual and historical destinies of western civilization, and the novel reflects this complexity, with the narrative alternating from 1555 to 1517 and from 1538 to 1527, and back. The reader must create his/her own timeline, though the events within each episode are clear. Filled with exciting, hair's-breadth escapes from disaster, fascinating and memorable depictions of (real) historical characters, insightfully presented intellectual conflicts, and dramatic events coming fast and furiously for over seven hundred pages, the novel is a rewarding adventure for the reader with a serious interest in the Reformation. Mary Whipple
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2006
I loved this book, I just don't see the negatives with it that other reviewers have. Yes, the short, episodic-like nature of the chapters often meant that it had to cut around the action a lot. But I never felt disconnected from the action or the ideas. No, it's probably not 100% historically accurate (having studied the reformation myself, i could see some flaws, mainly conceptual rather than factual), but few historical novels (or works of history, for that matter) are 100%. But there are lots of allegorical overtones in this book, as can be seen with the illustrations at the end that are often accompanied by quotes from political prisoners and petitions from the last decade or two. I would imagine many conservatives and those on the political right would have major problems with some of the issues raised in this book.
And all this aside, I thought it was just a bloody good read (despite guessing Q's real identity about a hundred, hundred and fifty pages in).
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2006
Negative comments in other reviews all relate to the reader's preexisting expectations of the novel based on some shallow comparison to U.E., for example. I will not insult the quality of this novel with this sort of comparison. Pick it up. Read it. For those accostomed to reading Dan Brown, this will take more time and effort on the part of the reader, but it is worth it. This book has the potential to alter your world-view.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Set in Reformation Europe between 1525 and 1555, Q is a historical novel of breathtaking proportions. Our narrator is a soul-searching wanderer who goes by many names (most notably Gert from the Well [in Muenster] and Titian [in Italy]) and who casts his lot with the rebels who have decided to fight authority in many of that era's pivotal, and bloody, conflicts. From the Peasants' War to the siege of Anabaptist Muenster to the Italian Inquisition, our hero thrives as an itinerant rabble-rouser -- a dreamer who sides with the underdogs not only as a matter of principle but as a matter of what it means to be alive in such heady times.
Bearing witness to this era through our narrator's eyes is a revelation: it allows us to get a *feel* for what the Reformation and its attendant social movements might have meant for the many different people -- bohemians, "heretics," the poor -- who understood this as an opportunity to change the course of their everyday lives. Thus forsaking rote "historical accuracy" and "period-accurate dialogue," Q succeeds as a historical *novel* in the way it amplifies the deeply held convictions, motivations, and beliefs that fluorished among the oppressed during the Reformation's bloodiest years.
Q is also just a great tale of espionage and intrigue. While the reader may be confused at first as to how the papal informer's letters and observations bear on our narrator's journeys, these characters' intertwining fate eventually emerges as one of the book's most powerful themes. Indeed, one of the more interesting aspects of the novel is how Q, the informer, starts off as a relatively flat character (a professional spy through and through) but then comes into his own in the last third of the book with more personal reflections about his life and work.
To conclude, I have to say that reviews that castigate this book for not being historically accurate baffle me. We read historical *fiction* not to point out factual minutiae but to take a pause from our present lives and dwell in some moment from the past. Historical fiction doesn't court nitpicky, holier-than-thou factual assertions -- it gives us emotional and intellectual *motivation* to want to explore the past in a deep and engaged way. In this regard, I believe that Q is a rousing success and one of the best historical novels to have been published in recent years.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2010
Usually I am not a big fan of historical fiction, but this book really is mind blowing.
I had the pleasure of reading it in Italian first. Translating this book into English must have required a superhuman effort.
Every sentence is just perfect in Italian, as it resonates with previous uses of certain combinations of words. If you were an Italian leftist, politically active in the Seventies and early Eighties, this book would have a completely different impact on you, as it would talk to you IN YOUR LANGUAGE, and by doing so, every word would become your Proustian madeleine. You are at turns, the object of discourse, the immediate addressee, and a superaddressee. This is what Bakhtin describes as the tertiary nature of dialogue...and yes, Mikhail Bakhtin was a genius and Luther Blissett gave us a great example of what can be achieved by applying his theories.
I first read about the Anabaptists when i went to Munster for an art show several years ago, as some of the artists invited to produce site-specific works made references to them. The memory of what happened in Muenster is still vivid today, as the citizens of this city still feel an emotional connection to that page of their civic history. Reading Q brought back a lot of the memories i have of that place, and it also helped me retrieve memories of the Venice ghetto, and the Giudecca....not to mention Antwerp and all the places i visited prior to reading this book. The great thing is that my memories became intertwined with Duerer's depictions as i turned the pages of this book.
A great intellectual pleasure...all concealed in a spy story that you cannot put down. Highly recommended!
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2005
The Reformation has been well-described in non-fiction but barely touched on in western fiction. Luther Blissett (a pseudonym for four young Italians)captures the horrors and conflicts of the wars and struggles following the explosion of faith resulting from the publication of Luther's theses. Luther's revolt stems from his disgust at the sale of indulgences by a local bishop who had purchased his office with the financial assistance of the Fuggers, a powerful banking consortium, and the continuing conflicts between bankers and idealists, papists and protestants, the rich and the poor color the remainder of the book. Along the way, we meet most of the important figures of the Reformation and are introduced in a summary but readable fashion to most of the major ideas of the period (infant versus adult baptism, personal communication with God, etc.). Not generally noted in non-fiction but a recurring theme here is the portrayal of the poor with their struggling reformist leaders inevitably triumphing on a short-term, local scale as they throw off their chains (think "workers of the world unite"); their downfalls follow quickly, and bloodily, as their philosophies or personalities prove incapable of supporting what has become a modern polity. The authors are over-obvious in their parallels to current times (shadowy multinational bankers and the ruling elite thwarting the lower classes search for freedom) but I was reminded more of Thucydides and his depiction of the city-states of Greece during the Peloponnesian War, each community searching, usually through a haze of murdered neighbors, for a governing philosophy. Overall, I enjoyed the book; wouldn't rate it as highly as Dorothy Dunnett's efforts, for example, but a much better read than many works with more critical acclaim.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I bought this book (English edition) in Rome several years ago, not realizing it was a translation from the Italian. I read it once then; it wasn't easy.
I've read it a couple more times since; it's a lot easier second time around. I've also read most of it in Italian,
and enjoyable and valuable as that was, I have to say, I don't think the English reader is missing much reading this translation.
I don't know if it's really the "greatest novel ever written", as one reviewer said, but I can understand why (s)he said that.
The people who wrote negative reviews about this book simply have no clue. I agree that there are some jarring anachronisms of speech in the translation, but it's a trivial flaw. I would imagine that rebellious peasants, soldiers, criminals, brothel keepers, did swear a lot, just as in this book, just as in the Nixon White House, just as on "Deadwood", and if they didn't say "wtf" they certainly said something equivalent. They may not have said things like "touched a live nerve", but who cares? And remember, it's a translation for frak's sake! (And I would say, an excellent translation; I'm just saying, while you're picking nits, don't blame the authors for the trivial pecadilloes of the translation).
The number of times our hero changes his name, identity and location, along with the interleaving of Q and the polynomial hero, and the interleaving of different times-- those things do make it difficult, especially if you are, as I was and as some of these negative reviewers obviously are, utterly clueless about the history under consideration. Probably if you know a little about it it's not quite so difficult.
That's why it went better for me on second reading. Also, this time around there's Wikipedia, and a lot of other useful sources of information about things like the Diet of Worms, Council of Trent, Cardinal Carafa, and so on, and I consulted them frequently, so my knowledge of this history is greatly enhanced, in a way that never would have happened otherwise.
It's true that many of the characters-- and there are a lot of characters-- aren't developed, but that makes sense given the way the book is structured. Or maybe it's even a flaw, but a minor one. This novel contains riches of a kind you won't find in most novels. It is difficult, but extremely well worth it.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2004
a multilayered historical novel for the thinking person about the early days of reformation, especially it's lesser known facts and characters. and a brilliantly drawn allegory to the present mess the worlds finds itself nowadays. it masterfully shows how a very similar game was played 500 years ago as it is today.
after reading "Q" one should read: "house of bush, house of saud", just to see that things unfortunately have not chnaged that much appearantly.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Q is a book like you can read one every ten years. It is wrote by 3 different persons, 3 italian university student of Bologna University, during their study period. It's amazing! Why?
You'll live for days in the Europe of the 16th century, a place where it was enough to survive to the very frequent wars between very powerful lords. You'll live it, not just read it. The experience is totally different from any other book i know. It's fast, very fast and the pearl is that an invented story (that follows a famous manifesto) lyes inside a real history period. The characters are always perfectly designed.
Inside Q you won't find a common , banal story but a masterpiece that will leave in you a very good memory.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2005
A lot of the reviews (not on amazon) of this book paint this novel as a literary introduction to 16th century anabaptism, it is but only partially so; for example there is no mention of the "mainstream heretics" such as Sattler or Simmons. This is certainly not a criticism as the book is incredibly well researched.
After the initial delight of a novel set in a period of history wore off I did begin to find the text difficult. I am not sure this is all the author's fault, I am reading a translation after all. Similarly the book was occassionally disjointed which is I think a result of the multiple authorship.
However, then Munster happened and for the remainder of the book I was gripped. Even in the midst of such initial idealism the interplay of anarchy and authority in the republic and later theocracy was fascinating.
Then just as this excitement wains the interplay between the multiple named principle character and Q becomes more interesting as they both grow order and become more and more similar.
This is the first novel I have read in years and while it can be hard work is definitely worth the effort.