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Baudolino Paperback – October 6, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 138 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The most playful of historical novelists, Umberto Eco has absorbed the real lesson of history: that there is no such thing as the absolute truth. In Baudolino, he hands his narrative to an Italian peasant who has managed, through good luck and a clever tongue, to become the adopted son of the Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, and a minister of his court in the closing years of the 12th century. Baudolino's other gift is for spontaneous but convincing lies, and so his unfolding tale--as recounted in 1204 to a nobleman of Constantinople, while the fires of the Fourth Crusade rage around them--exemplifies the Cretan Liar's Paradox: He can't be believed. Why not, then, make his story as outrageous as possible? In the course of his picaresque tale, Baudolino manages to touch on nearly every major theme, conflict, and boondoggle of the Middle Ages: the Crusades; the troubadours; the legend of the Holy Grail; the rise of the cathedral cities; the position of Jews; the market in relics; the local rivalries that made Italy so vulnerable to outside attack; and the perennial power struggles between the pope and the emperor. With the help of alcohol and a mysterious Moorish concoction called "green honey," Baudolino and his ragtag friends engage in typical scholastic debates of the period, trying to determine the dimensions of Solomon's Temple and the location of the Earthly Paradise. And when the Emperor needs support in his claims for saintly lineage, who but Baudolino can craft the perfect letter of homage from the legendary Prester John, Holy (and wholly fictitious) Christian King of the East? A giddy and exasperating romp, Baudolino will draw you into its labyrinthine inventions and half-truths, even if you know better. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In another grand mythical epic, Eco transports readers to the medieval Italy of The Name of the Rose (though almost two centuries earlier), where Frederick Barbarossa seeks to establish himself as the Holy Roman emperor. The story begins in 1204, as the Byzantium capital of Constantinople is sacked and Baudolino, the adoptive son of Frederick, recounts his life to Byzantine historian Niketas, whom he has just saved from the barbaric Latins. Unfolding amid religious conspiracy theories and mysticism, the narrative, which builds slowly, follows the life of Baudolino, an Italian peasant boy who fabricates stories he realizes people want to believe in. While studying in Paris, Baudolino meets several friends from all over the world, who together divulge their intimate dreams and share their desire to discover distant places. Two decades later, Baudolino calls together his friends to embark on what will be a lifelong journey to find Prester John, the Christian priest of the East, whose fabled reputation Baudolino has helped create. Eco seems to loosen the reins when the friends set out across unknown territories, where they grope through an eternally dark forest; traverse a river of stones and boulders; and encounter such mythical creatures as the sled-footed skiapods, dog-headed cynocephali and the Hypatia, beautiful sirens with the legs of goats. While the pilgrims are aware, to a certain extent, of Baudolino's truth-stretching, they all come to believe in their search, as does Baudolino himself. Eco builds his story upon light theological and historical debates, though fiction and history are more evenly balanced than in his previous book, The Island of the Day Before, making for a more engaging read. While this book lacks the suspense of The Name of the Rose, it is nevertheless a spirited story that might offer those previously daunted by his writing a more accessible entrée.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (October 6, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156029065
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156029063
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (138 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I adored Eco's THE NAME OF THE ROSE and FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM - and hated THE ISLAND OF THE DAY BEFORE. Umberto Eco's newest novel, BAUDOLINO, lies somewhere in between. In it, Eco returns to familiar territory: the Middle Ages and the theological philosophies that shaped the times. He begins his story during the Fourth Crusade when Constantinople is under attack. A Greek priest Niketas is rescued by a mysterious man named Baudolino who amazingly knows the languages of both attackers and defenders. While the two are in hiding, Baudolino tells Niketas his life story, from his peasant beginnings to his adoption by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick to his quest to discover the kingdom of the legendary priest Prestor John. Baudolino is a self-professed liar, so his story unfolds with the authority of his voice but also with underlying uncertainty. Baudolino believes with passion many of his own lies, lending yet another layer to his tale.
Parts of this novel are brilliant, but Eco does not seem to know what he wants this novel to be. For example, he spends a portion of the book documenting the rise of the Italian city-states, finally focusing on one city and its inhabitants with convincing detail and conflict, only to discard it - just when the situation gets interesting - in favor of a lackluster quest to return the Holy Grail to Prestor John's kingdom. The books covers events that occurred throughout Europe, and somehow (is it his liar's tongue?) Baudolino is always there with his hand stirring up history. Eco devotes huge sections to war, mythological beings, and long treatises on the theological questions of the times. He seems to want to cram everything he knows about the Middle Ages into this novel: myths, misconceptions, historical figures, theological debates, politics.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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?
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Format: Hardcover
Humorous and obscure, earthy and erudite, Eco's tale of a 12th century Italian peasant whose rise through the court of the Prussian Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, gives him a hand in most of the significant history of the time, delivers the intricate arguments, raucous personalities and mindbending paradoxes readers have come to expect.
The story opens during the sack of Constantinople in 1204. Having saved the historian Niketas, Baudolino proceeds to tell him his story; a grand epic which stars Baudolino as poet, statesman, reluctant soldier, spy, lover, holy man, philosopher, and pilgrim to the mythical realm of Prester John. It encompasses the Crusades, the search for the holy grail, the mysteries of the East, the circular wrangling between pope and potentate, the petty, fluid and bloody rivalries of Italian cities and the state of science at the time.
But there's one caveat. The young Baudolino originally caught his patron's eye because of his two greatest talents - languages and lies. So what to believe?
The choice is yours and the journey is stimulating, although the drug-enhanced Paris student arguments on the great questions of the day begin to read like student arguments of any era, despite the wit. Baudolino is engaging, but as an untrustworthy narrator he maintains a certain distance from the reader. Eco's fans, dictionary in hand, will enjoy the play, but those who got bogged down in "The Name of the Rose" should skip this one.
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Format: Hardcover
I would not recommend this book to everyone. If you are not interested in the middle ages and have no background in their history, or if you are not interested in gnosticism - you would probably find this book confusing and having too much piled in.
However - for those who do have some background in the history - this is absolutely wonderful. I think this is Eco's best book so far - it is meticulously researched, it is humourous, it weaves together multiple themes (including love, philosophy, adventure) and it has his typical detective edge with a surprising ending.
I could not stop smiling for 2 days after I finished reading it.
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