The Assassin

Fiction - Literary
222 Pages
Reviewed on 06/24/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Lucinda E Clarke for Readers' Favorite

Thomas Bauer’s The Assassin is set in a small isolated village at the time when Napoleon began his invasion of the various small Italian states. Six young men who are all friends, all unmarried, all living at home and with few marriage prospects due to their pranks, heavy drinking, and dismal prospects, are the targets of a revolutionary who is seeking conscripts for his cause; to keep the French on their own side of the border. Simone strives for a day when Italy is one great country again united in the pride of her glorious history. Only Umberto, the baker’s son, has ever traveled beyond the confines of the village and only with his father to collect supplies. The other five in the group can neither read nor write and have no idea of the outside world. They have never heard of Cicero, Leonardo de Vinci, Caesar, or any of the other great historical figures. Neither do they understand politics, philosophy, nor ideological concepts. They are simple, rural folk accepting what their elders and the parish priest have drummed into their unwilling heads. Their destiny is to take over the family business, marry, have children, and eventually lie in the local cemetery.

As I read The Assassin by Thomas Bauer, I laughed and I cried. To read of the innocence and indeed stupidity and lack of ambition of a group of early twenty-year-olds, one wonders if there are any more villages today so apart from the world. I loved this book; it flows beautifully. I turned the pages looking for the assassin and, yes, he was there. I marveled at the speeches from Simone who frantically tried to capture the interest and enthusiasm of a group of village idiots. Did he realize he was wasting his time, that such personalities had no imagination or ambition to change their lives? Maybe Umberto was the one exception, but his dreams of becoming rich and bedding the most beautiful women in the nearby town of Novara had no practical plans and less than zero chance of becoming reality. I wondered at their innocence, their guile in the excellent characterization of each of the young men. They were both innocent and cruel, feckless and hard-drinking and not altogether lovable. I felt for the girls they lusted after and the ones they despised for their large size. The village had all the stereotypes -- a witch, a bad-tempered priest, the hard-working artisans despairing of their wayward offspring, the local girl so free with her favors, the mayor who held his position because he was the richest, and all of them innocent enough to be duped by the annual traveling players selling their bottles of snake oil. I really enjoyed the author’s style of writing, tongue in cheek, mocking yet with a deeper, almost sinister undertone that made me think. Highly recommended.

Jon Michael Miller

The Assassin by Thomas Bauer is a short, easy-to-read, semi-historical novel in which a naïve, fantasy-prone young baker in a remote mountain village is inspired by an anti-French provocateur to assassinate Napoleon on the general’s stopover in northern Italy’s Piedmont area. Besides the exciting tale about the proposed murder, Mr. Bauer presents a humorous and all-encompassing portrait of late-eighteenth-century rural Italian life as well as a primer on how to start a revolution from a simple idea in one man’s mind. Mr. Bauer could have been presenting a metaphor for the current political atmosphere in the United States. In The Assassin, the protagonist is Umberto Guardo, the twenty-something son of the village’s sole baker. The village is so small that there is only one of every necessary profession.

I was impressed by Mr. Bauer’s writing pace. Taking his time, he develops the tale step by step, first giving us a vivid picture of the hilltop village Puntarocca, its isolation and irrelevancy, and of a group of young men who, besides their jobs in family businesses, spend their time drinking, eyeing women and playing practical jokes on fellow villagers. Our protagonist, Umberto, is the most naïve of the gang and the butt of most of the tricks; his nickname is “Capra” the goat. Umberto dreams big of city life and of a great destiny. He is perfect grist for the idealistic mill of the story’s villain, the iconoclastic Simone Testa, seeking temporary refuge in the village to plan Italy’s resistance to impending French rule. In an easy and exciting read, Thomas Bauer has written an intriguing, ironic tale of Italian days long past and of the enduring methodology of revolution in The Assassin.

Grant Leishman

The Assassin by Thomas Bauer is an intriguing novella about an attempted assassination of Napoleon by a small group of illiterate and indolent village men in a tiny village in Italy. Umberto Guardo is the simple, naïve baker’s son whose life revolves around getting drunk every evening with his equally ne’er-do-well buddies in the local tavern, playing pranks on each other and other innocent members of the village, and trying to keep his parents happy during the day by helping in the bakery. When a stranger arrives in the village and begins to indoctrinate the young men about the joys of a united Italy, standing proud against the expected French invasion, Umberto and his friends are impressed by his stories of the wider world and even by his political rhetoric. It is a shock when the news is announced that the great Generalissimo himself and his troops will be passing through the tiny village. Can one member of this group find the courage and the wherewithal to actually assassinate Napoleon and forever change the course of European history?

The Assassin is interesting, if just for the idea that even the lowest member of society can make a difference in world history just by one single, outrageous act. Author Thomas Bauer has created an intriguing postulation with this narrative. The characters that comprise the drinking buddies are, at best, lazy, indolent, and uninterested in much beyond their daily get-together and drinking sessions. Umberto, as the exception, having seen a much larger city with his father is more expansive in his outlook and can readily see the world the stranger opens up for them. I particularly enjoyed the interplay between Umberto and his comrades, whose pranks were often needlessly hurtful and frequently deeply regretted after they had been played on the unsuspecting victims. The idea that one insignificant person could have changed the course of history with a single act is one that has intrigued authors through the centuries and this iteration of the concept makes for a generally satisfying if rather brief read. This book was easy to read and many of the members of Umberto’s group were readily identifiable and able to be empathized with. I enjoyed it and can recommend this book.