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The Barnes & Noble Review
Known primarily for the internationally bestselling medieval mystery The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco returns to that complex time period with a tale that's at once tremendously ambitious, scholarly, and wholly enigmatic.
In 13th-century Byzantium, the latest Crusade is underway. Its leader, Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa, comes across the young Baudolino, a skillful and captivating storyteller with a gift for lies and languages that will ultimately change the course of history. Charmed by the youth, Barbarossa adopts Baudolino and sends him to the finest university in Paris, where Baudolino is mystically drawn to major world events -- among them the canonization of Charlemagne -- and manages to leave his particular personal stamp on them all. Fable that becomes reality that becomes myth is one of the many themes to be discovered in this dazzling, voluminous novel. Baudolino eventually gathers a bizarre band of followers and begins a search for Prester John, a legendary king whose lost empire in the East might hold the secrets to the Holy Grail -- and the key to a murder mystery Baudolino believes he can solve.
Eco uses the Forrest Gump-like concept of a character making an imprint on history to great effect. Stylish, weighty, and shrewd, the narrative is as much a chronicle of our world as it is the story of a fictional hero. A masterfully crafted and wonderfully erudite historical fantasy-cum-mystery, Baudolino is an impressive literary work with brilliant cross-genre appeal. (Tom Piccirilli)