The latest Umberto Eco is set in 1207 during the sack of Constantinople, where the title-giving hero tells the impropable story of his life to a Greek historian. Baudolino’s story involves him in all the key moments of his time– he becomes the adoptive son of the Holy Roman Emperor Barbarossa, takes part in a bunch of battles and bawdy adventures, and finally sets out on a quest to find the land of the Prester John, somewhere east past Jerusalem. As his story turns more and more impropable, he finds the Holy Grail and arrives in strange lands full of skiapods and rocs.
Part historical novel, part Munchausen tall tale, part murder mystery, part Umberto Eco semiotics wankfest, this is one of his better novels. I got bogged down in the last quarter, but the pay-off was actually worth it. Unless I missed one, this is his first since “The Island of the Day Before,” which I didn’t particularly love. I adored “Foucault’s Pendulum” when that came out, and studied “The Name of the Rose” fairly well, since it’s really a theory in narrative disguise rather than the straightforward historical mystery it’s turned into for the movie. “The Name of the Rose” still remains his best book, but this one’s a lot of fun.