February 16, 2011

Italy Reading Challenge 2011: Baudolino

The second book I chose for the Italy in Books Reading Challenge was Baudolino by Umberto Eco. Although the book is only set in Italy some of the time (it is also set in Constantinople, Paris, and the Far East), a major plot point occurs in Italy and the title character was born there.

The novel is set in 1204, with Constantinople being raided during the 4th Crusade. Baudolino, at this point an old man, saves a court official and historian named Niketas from certain death, and as they flee to safety, Baudolino narrates his entire life story and his adventures.

Theoretically, I should have loved this book. It's historical fiction, and I love historical fiction. It's about religion, and while I'm not religious, I love stories about religion. It's also about storytelling and the ways in which history and myth are told, retold, and established. And Baudolino is an unreliable narrator - I love a story with an unreliable narrator, when I can't be sure if he's telling me the truth or if he's telling me a lie.

However, I just couldn't get into Baudolino. It's a good story, and the translation is beautiful, but for some reason, the book failed to captivate my interest or keep my attention. In fact, there was one point at which I considered giving up - it was really only this reading challenge that kept me motivated to make it to the last page. And the frustrating part is that I can't really explain why I didn't like it. Intellectually, I know it's a good book. But it didn't do anything for me on an emotional level.

I've heard from more than one person that Baudolino is not Eco's best work, and that I'd like his other writings much more. I haven't written Eco off yet, and I'm going to guess that my friends are right; that Eco is a wonderful writer, but Baudolino is not the place to start.

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