Have recently finished reading Q by Luther Blissett. Except, as is pointed out early on, Luther Blissett, a soccer player, had nothing to do with the writing of the book, which was actually done by four anonymous Italian men from Bologna. Q begins 'out of Europe' in 1555, with the (also anonymous) protagonist reading a notebook which he has somehow acquired. How this notebook came into his hands might be one way of describing the story, which begins in Wittenburg in 1518, just after Luther had made his move, and whose action proper starts with the crushing of the Peasant's Revolt at Frankenhausen in May, 1525 - an action which, according to W. G. Sebald, so distressed the painter Grunewald that he covered his face with a cloth and refused to leave his house for two years. The second part of the book concerns the Anabaptist takeover of Munster and its proclamation as a free city in the 1530s; and the terrible events which followed, as Jan of Leyden became intoxicated with power and, later, the city fell, with much slaughter and many reprisals. The third part of the book takes place mostly in northern Italy and deals with the intrigues around the Papal Court as opposing factions seek the ascendancy, and the next Papacy. 'Gert from the Well' to give the hero his most used name, is a radical free-thinker, a common man, uncommonly resourceful, not a fantatic, a kind of everyman; his opponent, Q, or Qoelet, or 'Carafa's Eye', another German, is a Papal spy who has worked under cover to compromise and destroy the various radical Protestent experiments; the two, who are known to each other, but do not 'know' each other, conduct a pas-de-deux over a period of thirty odd years, which culminates in Venice in the 1550s. Wonderful book, written in a series of cinematic grabs of action, on the one hand, and a series of letters, on the other, to give you a succint, vivid and always humane account of the period.

It is followed by a series of illustrations, maps, portraits, beneath one of which (a map of central Europe at the time) is an excerpt from the press release by the authors on 1.4.99, against the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (seems like an age ago, don't it? ...) : "We have never been interested in generic calls to peace: there is an extremely strong rationale for the existence of war today, just as there was four centuries ago. It is deeply rooted in the criminal economic and political choices made by states and multi-national powers, whether they are the United States or the Empire of Charles V. And similarly there is a rationale behind the ethnic cleansing and reprisals, one to which we do not adhere and have always fervently opposed ... "

The last words of the book, which ends where it began, in Istanbul in 1555, are worth meditating upon; they, are, as it were, the accumulated wisdom of Gert from the Well, that great survivor: "Do not advance the action according to a plan."

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