I finally finished the 521-page epic and I’m somewhat disappointed. I loved the Name of the Rose, so looked forward to this one, which is highly praised. Eco knows a great deal about the Middle Ages and he jammed this book full of that knowledge.
Baudolino is the center of the story that Eco built around King Frederick of the Holy Roman Empire, also known as Barbarossa. While Baudolino is fictional, and an admitted liar, he is able to take part in key historical events during and after Frederick’s reign as his adopted son. His claim to fame is his ability to learn to speak any language within hours.
If you know the events of the life and death of Barbarossa and the fall of Constantinople, you will be able to follow the narrative fairly well. If you know the common folk tales, fables, legends, and misunderstood science of the age, the read will flow easily.
As with his other books, even Numero Zero, Eco combines fact and fiction is such a way that reality is painted perhaps more clearly than the best history books can do.
My disappointment is only in the amount of time spent on the legend of Prester John. It was widely believed in the 12th Century that a kingdom in what is now India had been established by the Apostle Thomas and was ruled centuries later by Prester John. The legends grew out of contacts the west had with Moslems from the Seventh Century onward. Historically, Barbarossa seemed to have some interest in the legend and was on his way to recapture Jerusalem and then move east to find the kingdom. He died before the Third Crusade could get organized.
If you want to read a powerfully written narrative set in the Europe of the 12th Century, and you want to swim in the muddied currents of legends and facts, Eco has written the book for you.