While the embers of Constantinoplefade under the star-dappled skies of the 13th century, I close the cover on Umberto Eco?s Baudolino.After an unfulfilling quest under Brown?s banner in The Da Vinci Code, I found Baudolino a refreshing example of doing more with less. Beginning with a simple, almost vulgar peasant in ruralNorthern Italy, Eco sets in motion a quest worthy of Malory?s Arthur, Polo?s Travels and Swift?s Gulliver. Our glance into this tale is presented as a confession of sorts, by Baudolino to a witness of happenstance as the two flee from the crusader?s pillage ofConstantinople?
Elevated by fortune and a precocious gift for languages, the title character becomes not only practical witness to history but opportunistic muse to kings, bishops and commoners.Baudolino, in short is a divine liar who, somewhere along the way brushes with wisdom, love and legend. This dalliance begins in Eco?s colorful and frank depiction of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa?s lifelong struggles with the fractious city-states ofNorthern Italythat leaves little to the mercies of fanciful revisionist visions of that cauldron of treachery and human strife. Onward to the academies ofPariswhere knowledge both sublime and carnal find purchase in Baudolino?s budding intellect. And finally into the Near and Far East.
Along the way, Baudolino gains a company of unlikely companions each of whom illustrates some individual aspect of the medieval world.Perhaps, they could be seen as knights of the most unlikely sort, each championing a fragment of the cultures and philosophies of that age.Somewhere along the way, Eco takes the reader and Baudolino?s company beyond the veil of history and into the realm of myth and legend.He does so skillfully, however, leaving the reader uncertain just what to dismiss with his modern sensibilities.
It is in that final realm, a descent into a Paradiso and Inferno of ideology and humanity that the message of the novel comes to its forefront.I would recommend not overshooting that theme amongst the more mundane mysteries that unravels along with Baudolino?s life.