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Showing 1-10 of 41 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 152 reviews
on June 7, 2015
[Sorry this is so long. To skip to the part about the book itself scroll down the words "the story in the book".]
This book is set in the time from the lead-in to the Third Crusade (1187-1192), in which a European force tried unsuccessfully to retake Jerusalem from the Musim forces which had retaken the city in 1187, through the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), in which the Doge of Venice found a way to hijack the European army, which had been intended to reconquer Jerusalem by capturing Alexandria in Egypt (Venice's trading partner) and moving up the coast to expel the Muslims, and instead have it attack Constantinople (Venice's trading rival) and destroy the center of the Eastern Roman Empire, which had survived for almost 800 years - through almost unimaginable crises of external threats and internal misrule and foolishness - after the 476, the date normally (and arbitrarily) given for the fall of the West.
The Mediterranean world of that time was a complex and unstable one. The Muslim political entities of West Asia and North Africa were militarily powerful when unified, but were prone to internal power struggles that erupted into civil wars. The Eastern Roman (Byzantine) empire was reduced to Anatolia, Thrace, and the Balkans, but over the preceding couple of centuries had recovered from military and economic weakness to become the major military and commercial power in the eastern Mediterranean. It had started to decline again, due to the power of the rich aristocrats and a series of disastrous emperors who diverted money away from the military and entered into trade agreements with the Venetian and Genoese city-states. The Normans, super warriors who had emerged from northwestern Europe around the turn of the millennium, had seized substantial parts of western France, conquered the Saxon kingdom in England, and then evicted the Byzantines from southern Italy and the Arabs from Sicily. The Norman kingdom of Sicily turned into a powerhouse that threatened to conquer the Byzantines but it faded and was absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire in the late 12th century.
The action then switched to several frontiers. Italy became a battleground between the Papacy, which was a major temporal power, as well as the center of religious legitimacy in the West, and the Holy Roman Emperors, who were German nobles and who traced the legitimacy of their claim to be "Roman" emperors back to Charlemagne, who was crowned as Roman emperor in 800 by the then-Pope, who was in a political battle for power with the Byzantines and who took advantage of the occupancy of the Eastern throne by a woman (the Empress Irene) to declare that - since a woman obviously could not be emperor - the imperial throne was vacant and to arrogate to himself the power to appoint someone (here a Frankish ruler) to fill it. The popes wound up like many people who had gotten what they wished for and had to fight for the temporal power they had seized for themselves in central Italy against the temporal power of the "emperors" they had granted themselves the power to appoint.
Meanwhile in the East, the back-and-forth battles between the Byzantines and the Muslims were not going well for the former. The rebuilt Byzantine power had resisted an Arab siege of Constantinople, destroyed the threat from the Slavs and Bulgars in the Balkans, and pushed far into the territories seized from it by the Muslims. The empire was shining with military power, economic might, and cultural dominance.
Until it wasn't. The oligarchs had become very powerful. Although Arab power had waned, a new Muslim power appeared, the Seljuk Turks, who appeared in Western Asia out of the steppes. They wandered into Anatolia on their way to fight with the Mamlukes of Egypt (somehow the Eastern Romans always did badly when someone was on the way to Egypt) and the emperor at the time, a good general, thought that he could protect his borders from their raids and establish his legitimacy against the challenges of the oligarchs by chasing the Turks away with his army. Unfortunately for him (and the empire) it didn't work out that way. He was defeated in battle due to the treachery of his oligarch co-commander and the Turks decided to stay in Anatolia instead of going down to Egypt. They gradually began seizing territory and displacing the farmers and herdsmen who had lived there. The Turks captured Jerusalem and began to bar Christian pilgrims from visiting and worshipping there.
The Eastern emperor, who was watching Anatolia be eaten up by the Turks and saw his own empire in peril, sent to the Pope for help, citing the oppression of the Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem.
Help, in the form of the First Crusade, arrived. (See above about getting what you wish for.) The Crusades went - far from smoothly - through Byzantine territory - down to the Middle East. The crusaders made (and ignored) promises to the Eastern Emperor about restoring conquered territory in the Middle East to the Empire and eventually reached and seized Jerusalem. They established a series of small states along the coast of the Levant. These were eventually destroyed by the Muslims, hence the later crusades.
Meanwhiile, back in Italy, the city-states were arising and entering into a state of Hobbesian war of all upon all.
And, of course, the intellectual life of the time was largely religious and had to do with fine-tuning the meaning of the Christian Trinity.
The story in the book is on its surface the picaresque narrative of an Italian peasant (Baudolino) who is befriended (more or less adopted) by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (1122 - 1190), who died in the Third Crusade. Baudolino is an admitted liar and therefore an Unreliable Narrator. He goes back and forth in his unreliable narration. He accompanies the Emperor on the Third Crusade and winds up back in Constantinople (which he accurately describes as an indescribably large, prosperous, and beautiful city on the eve of the Fourth Crusade). He is a witness to the savagery of the sack of that city by the crusade and has the Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates (who he rescues from death by plundering crusaders in the Hagia Sophia) as a friend and audience for his tales.
Baudolino travels East from Constantinople in search of the kingdom of Prester John, the legendary Christian ruler of a distance Asian land, and narrates his exotic adventures.
Since Baudolino is established as unreliable and willing to lie to serve or subvert those he speaks with, his stories are all suspect though presented in loving detail. I don't know any more powerful description of the looting of Constantinople, which went from a monument and museum of a culture that reached back through Ancient Roman times and was turned into a smoking ruin, with centuries-old treasures melted into bullion or stolen, than this (not to mention the outrages inflicted on its people). What Eco seems most interested in is giving us a sense of how strange and contingent to modern minds the supposedly hidebound and doctrinaire medieval mind was. Everyone is debating theology, medieval understandings of ancient science, art, and rules of conduct.
But the problem with such a post-modern approach to such a complex historical, political, religious, philosophical, military, etc. narrative is that the narrative eventually disappears under the weight it must carry. The last part of the book is a voyage to the land of Prester John with its extraordinary people and creatures out of medieval and ancient narratives but by then we've become so overloaded that it's hard to follow along.
Eventually Eco decided that the book is really a murder mystery about how Barbarossa died but he can't put any suspense into the question because of the giant mass of narrative he has surrounded it with.
Technically, the book (at least in English) is a failure. It is so dense and discursive and so full of dead-end narratives, shaggy-dog stories, and meaningless details that it is almost impossible to follow. It also lacks a central narrative that could make the effort of following it worthwhile.
Yet, if you can cast yourself loose from any commitment to making narrative, moral, historical, character developmental, or any other kind of sense of the book, it offers a kind of seductive bath in striking images and rich descriptions. Eco is Baudolino, a totally unreliable narrator with extraordinarily rich but probably false detai.
If you know the history and the intellectual battles and the literature of the time, this is a way to play with those ideas and see a clever manipulation of them. If you are looking for a real narrative or even the somewhat strange mystery of Romance of the Rose, this will be a disappointing book.
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on May 18, 2017
I've found Umberto Eco to be a wonderful writer, and while I did enjoy Baudolino, and Eco's interesting exploration of Truth, I didn't find this to be the best of his works. Still definitely worth the time, but if you've not read him before, you may want to first check out The Name of the Rose, which is one of his finest.
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on February 28, 2017
First time that I have read his books, it kept my interest into finding out what the next chapter would bring forth. Thank you.
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on December 27, 2012
Umberto Eco is a brilliant individual, an outstanding author, and he possesses a bounty of knowledge related to the the field of semiotics. That said, if The Name of the Rose is a 10/10, and the Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is an 8.5/10, Baudolino is *only* a 7/10.

The book is several parts Eco weaving history and fiction together (and well, I might add), mixed with one part of utter and complete weirdness. If this was the peak of Eco's weirdness, I'd be fine with it, but evaluating it in retrospect (having recently read The Prague Cemetery), I can see that this book represents the point at which Eco started his slide into the deep end of the crazy pool.

Read Baudolino. Enjoy it. But if you do, remember what I said when you progress onto Eco's most recent work (The Prague Cemetery).
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on September 6, 2015
Throughout the story it felt almost a real living... holographic recreation of a man at the epicentre of the dark ages
If Forrest Gump had been born in the 12th century his story would have read pretty similarly
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on September 16, 2016
The translation of Baudolino is marvelous and a fun read. With this book you never know just where it is going but it is educational and enlightening of a very medieval time. I will this book again with a greater understanding of the historical times and events.
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on June 29, 2014
Baudolino and his story are a journey into a world of imagination and adventure that is unparalleled in contemporary literature. Eco really does take one back into his time machine to places of rich imagination and intrigue. He adds a spell binding mystery, a love story of epic proportions and tales of honor and glory of knights, crusaders, and emperors. The plot is unique, the characters superbly crafted, and the action unrelenting.
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on July 5, 2015
As usual, Eco's writing is trilling, enlightening, and this book is funny in an amazing and witty way. Elegant, human and beautiful. A book to all that likes a little bit of history, a little bit of fantasy (you can see most of the “monster” of The Book of Marvels and Travels from Jehan de Mandeville) and of human nature. Amazing.
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on April 13, 2013
this story is slow getting started. 3/4 of the way through for me before the magic of Umberto Eco's skill in language and human emotion kicked in. He writes a passage on pure love that is well worth slogging through the ponderous first half of the book to get to. An average read for fans who have read all his other stuff first, as this is not the best example of his work.
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on December 9, 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...
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