Baudolino – Umberto Eco
This is easily my favorite work by Umberto Eco and pretty high on my list of favorite works of historical fiction in general. The story is set in the late 12th century and early 13th century. The main character is Baudolino a boy from northern Italy who has two talents: he can learn any language in moments and he is a very good liar. These skills carry him first to the court of Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor, the University of Paris and finally into central Asia and the realm of medieval fantasy. The book is wonderfully rambling. It carries you through countless historical and quasi-historical events in a world that is beautifully created. Eco also treats his readers like they are intelligent and capable individuals. He spends very little time relating historical information to his readers. He assumes you either no it or are capable of figuring it out for yourself. So like any Eco novel it takes some effort to read but it is more than worth it.
Q – Luther Blissett
Q is an interesting book both for it’s subject matter and for it’s author. Luther Blissett is the nom de plume of four Italian authors, Roberto Bui, Giovanni Cattabriga, Federico Guglielmi and Luca Di Meo. The story is set during the early Protestant reformation. The story switches back and forth between an Anabaptist called (among other things) Gert from the Well and a Catholic spy known as Q or Qoèlet. You follow Gert from his early days as an idealistic University student fighting in the German Peasants War to his later days in the book trade in Venice. Q on the other hand appears mostly in the form of reports to his master cardinal Giovanni Pietro Carafa. Both characters are locked in a duel that they aren’t fully aware of and the reader watches as their senses of belief evolves over time. Like Baudolino the world created by Blissett is expertly drawn from the horrors of the siege of Münster to the book fairs of Geneva.
My Name is Red – Orhan Pamuk
Nominally this book is the story of the murder of a miniaturist of the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul in. What makes this story interesting is that not only does it take one into the world of the Ottoman book trade in the 16th century it gives the reader a view of Turkish and Persian story telling and literature. The reader sees the stories like the romance of Khorsrow and Shirin through the eyes of the miniaturists tasked to illustrate them. Pamuk also loves to play with literary forms. Each chapter in narrated by a different character. That character can be anyone or anything. A coin, a corps and the drawing of a dog all serve as narrators. The narrators are also aware that they are narrators and address the reader directly. This writing style pared with a history and literary tradition many readers won’t be familiar with can be a bit off putting but look at yourself as an explorer both of a literary style and unknown lands and this book will be a treat.