A tall, yellow-haired young European traveller calling himself "Mogor dell'Amore," the Mughal of Love, arrives at the court of the real Grand Mughal, the Emperor Akbar, with a tale to tell that begins to obsess the whole imperial capital. The stranger claims to be the child of a lost Mughal princess, the youngest sister of Akbar's grandfather Babar: Qara Kčoz, 'Lady Black Eyes', a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, who is taken captive first by an Uzbeg warlord, then by the Shah of Persia, and finally becomes the lover of a certain Argalia, a Florentine soldier of fortune, commander of the armies of the Ottoman Sultan. When Argalia returns home with his Mughal mistress the city is mesmerised by her presence, and much trouble ensues. But is Mogor's story true? And if so, then what happened to the lost princess? And if he's a liar, must he die?--From publisher description.
I was fortunate enough to have been selected to review [The Enchantress of Florence] for Librarything ER, and this novel leaves Fury far, far behind. The novel is richly textured, elaborate, and since it's a story built on discursivity (hell, on recursivity; this novel is an empire built on itself) it may not be surprising that the book draws comparisons to [[Jorge Luis Borges]] and [[Umberto Eco]], particularly [The Name of the Rose], which happens to be my favorite book.
The themes here are quite different than that of Eco's novel, though, and were so resonant I actually dreamed of the book the two nights I slept in between reading it. Themes of echoing, reflections, referencing, mirroring, storytelling, and doubling, as well as the power of these elements to bring both story and reality to life (and, with this novel, who's to tell which is which?), are Rushdie's primary concerns, which in turn fork off to explore divergent issues. I was particularly interested in the way he used women as echoes and mirrors and emphasized their subaltern status, with poor Jodha and, more obviously, with the Angelicas. The way Akbar reflects on the New World in the same orientalizing tone that many modern Western writers are guilty of was absolutely brilliant, and the perfect way to end the novel.
At times, the careful naming which Rushdie gave everything become overly ornate, and difficult for me to follow--I wouldn't call this a criticism, since I think this is intentional, but it can make for all the names and stories jumbling together in a pot. Again, this is intentional--Niccolo Vespucci's entrance into the Moghul Empire is worded precisely as Nino Argalia's is into Florence, for instance--but in the stress of final paper time, I may have been less attentive than the story called for.
I teach my Comp 101 class a unit on intertextuality, and I would love to give them an excerpt from this to decipher. The novel was stunning, and even those who are not interested in studying this seriously would certainly be drawn in by its fairytale, 1001 Nights style.
One of the best books I've read of the year. (I wish my prof had let me do my final Postcolonialism/Ecocriticism paper on it, but alas!)
On one level, “The Enchantress of Florence” is a historical novel with wonderful information about 16th Century Hindustan (India) and Florence, Italy. On another level, there is the story itself, chock full of characters and their back-stories, and those characters’ respective adventures. This layered story interweaves, back and forth across time and place. On still another level, this a platform for a fictionalized Akbar the Great to ponder the deep questions of humanity: a politically powerful man portrayed as being on the cusp of intellectual greatness as well.
There are a great many themes and juxtapositions in this book. Here are a few:
• The confluence of differing histories, philosophies and belief systems (e.g. between East and West);
• Power: political power versus the power of belief;
• The power of belief as a political/historical force: if you believe in something strongly enough, it has the force of reality; it is self-determining; especially in the realm of politics;
• Force and prudence: one of the characters of this book is a fictional Niccolo Machiavelli, who in real history wrote philosophical treatises on political power, particularly espousing the idea of a balance of force versus prudence to successfully rule. The upshot is the employment of this idea: “the ends justifying the means”;
• Legend versus history: e.g. “magical realism”; also: what really happened way back when?; can we ever truly know?;
• Women: what kind of power do women have in a patriarchal culture, or any culture, for that matter? Sexual? Intellectual? What do men really want from women? Loyal wife? Plaything? Intellectual equal?;
• Who creates whom? Do we create ourselves, or are we created by others? What factors play into those things?
“The Enchantress of Florence” is very like a huge colorful tapestry: look in the upper right corner and there is a story of ancient Hindustan. Look: bottom left, a picture of 16th Century Florence. Look: there is Akbar the Great… And over there, Niccolo Machiavelli. That one female figure hiding behind a column, sometimes clearly seen, other times faded, seems to be saying something. The women in this tapestry, all of them at its center: so many of them are indescribably beautiful. All the male heads woven ito this picture, from the great of leaders, to the lowliest of servants, are all turned towards them. Looking at this tapestry, it’s hard at times to know what is real and what isn’t. There are strange workings just under the surface; unexplainable phenomena. In the end, is it just a story? My eyes wander all over this tapestry; there is a lot to see here.
Akbar’s complex characterization carries the story. He is characterized as a man who, in his kingdom, tries to reconcile all men, regardless of religion or status. He entertains the incredible idea that discord and difference might actually be a force for good, rather than ill; an idea that coming from a king is very unusual. In one scene he is slicing up a foe, in the next he is contemplating deep things. One moment he questions his identity as a god-like ruler; later in the book he wonders about women, imagining into being his “perfect” woman. This he does at the expense of interest in his “real” wives. Later he is awakened to an undeniable and disturbing allure of an unconventional, self-determinate woman. Akbar’s mind cannot be boxed; he is standing on an isthmus between ignorance and enlightenment. Ultimately, however, he realizes that his philosophy is as temporary as life itself: alive only as long as he is.
In its scale (though not in length) “The Enchantress of Florence” is reminiscent of “Don Quixote” or “The Brothers Karamazov”. It is unusual for me to read a modern novel that is irreverent with timeline and theme. But like those earlier masterworks, this is a welcome part of the journey. A book with so many layers is one that keeps its reader thinking about it long after the last word is processed.
"The traveler had money in his pocket and had made a long, roundabout journey. This way was his way: to move toward his goal indirectly, with many detours and divagations." (The Enchantress of Florence, page 10)
and indeed, the story works back and forth between settings and time periods, with the narrative folding upon itself in many ways. Characters in one location or time have mirrors in another (and Qara Köz has her own Mirror who travels with her), events and phrases occur and recur, and questions of religion and identity and truth are brought up again and again. At its heart, The Enchantress of Florence is about the power of story.
Rushdie put years of research into this book (those interested in learning more can peruse his long bibliography, which he claims is not a complete list of books he consulted), and much of the background of the story has firm pinnings in historical fact. Akbar was a real emperor, who tried to embrace all religions and encouraged philosophical thought. Machiavelli is also a main character, and Lorenzo di Medici, Vlad the Impaler, and Queen Elizabeth I all make appearances. For the most part, Rushdie works these figures, and much of his research, organically into the story.
The Enchantress of Florence is out now in England, and reviews are decidedly mixed. I liked it for its adventure/historical novel/Rushdie-ness, and as always with Rushdie, it left me with quite a bit to think about. I've been reading some interesting takes on religion lately (primarily in Purple Hibiscus and Fieldwork), and this just adds to the mix.
It's not a book I would recommend whole-heartedly, because it's not going to appeal to those who have no patience with post-modernism in general or with Rushdie in particular, or with magical realism. Also, and I think this is typical of Rushdie, even in a book where the title character is a woman, it's all about the men. The female characters have no existence without the men (one of them literally so--she was imagined into life by a man), nor, it seems, do they want to. Akbar's explorations of religion and humanity and goodness will earn Rushdie no currency with those who already condemn him:
"If there had never been a God, the emperor thought, it might have been easier to work out what goodness was. This business of worship, of the abnegation of self in the face of the Almighty, was a distraction, a false trail. Wherever goodness lay, it did not lie in ritual, unthinking obeisance before a deity but rather, perhaps, in the slow, clumsy, error-strewn working out of an individual or collective path." (The Enchantress of Florence, page 310)
However, it's this questioning, this reaching and searching that elevates the tale above the adventure, and will stay in the reader's mind long after the story itself has faded.
The Enchantress of Florence is the third of Rushdie's novels that I have read, the others being Midnight's Children and The Moor's Last Sigh. I've been meaning for some time to read The Satanic Verses, but after finishing Enchantress my enthusiasm for that larger, more notorious volume has dimmed considerably. It's not that Enchantress is a bad book -- it is very far from being a bad book -- but somehow it falls flat. The writing is strong, the imagery often striking, and the premise is appealing, but I found the whole to be less than the parts. Come to think of it, I felt the same way about The Moor's Last Sigh: almost any individual page was more satisfying than the book as a whole.
This story takes place in the late Renaissance, and stitches together two cities: Florence in its hey-day, and the illustrious Mughal court of India. It starts out well enough, with an engaging portrait of a confidence man with a deft hand and a twinkling eye who is bound for India bearing a great secret. This was for me the best part of the book. Upon his arrival, however, he begins to narrate his history, and this story-within-the-story, which comprised most of the rest of the novel, I did not enjoy. To be honest, I got lost in the thicket of names and nicknames and changing identities and fractured timelines. I'll willing to admit that this is partly my own fault. My attention to detail was not helped by his choosing to integrate, sometimes far too graphically, incestuous sexuality into the plot. Mr. Rushdie, is this really necessary?
There is much to enjoy here, all the same. Rushdie conjures up a hazy, sultry, musical tone for the decadent Mughal court, and plays on themes of magic, dreams, imagination, time, and identity. It's enchanting, but not engrossing. I found it too self-conscious of its own artfulness to really draw me in.
"In the beginning there were three friends, Antonino Argalia, Niccolo 'il Macchia' and Ago Vespucci." Argalia, the adventurous condittiore; Ago, the stay-at-home cousin of Amerigo; and Niccolo, the politician and writer, Machiavelli; all come under the spell of Angelica, the Enchantress of Florence, who in her first life was Qara Koz, the hidden princess of Mughals and great aunt to its Emperor Akbal. They are the progenitors of one Niccolo Vespucci, who calls himself Mogor dell' Amore, a magician and teller of tales, who makes his way across the world to Sikri, to the court of the great Akbar, descendant of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane.
The interplay of cultures in this novel reminded me of THE MOOR'S LAST SIGH, but THE ENCHANTRESS is not nearly as dark a vision as THE MOOR, nor as complex. Once again, Rushdie clearly delineates his distrust of religious fanaticism, be it the Christian Savanarola or the Muslim purists who would wipe out their Hindu brethren. While THE MOOR explores the revelatory aspects of visual art, there is a quality of 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS about this novel with its exploration of the healing powers of storytelling.
The most fully realized character in the novel is Akbar -- the orphaned child who becomes the bloodthirsty conqueror and later the polymath Emperor, patron of the arts, who encourages religious debate among his various subjects: Muslim scholars, Sikhs, Hindus, athiests and even evangelical Jesuit priests. He so longs for love that he conjures up Jodhabai, his perfect wife, but it is not until the ghost of Qara Koz is brought forth by Niccolo, that he finds a soul mate.
THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE is an exuberant read that brings both Renaissance Florence and Mughal India alive. Rushdie himself reveled in the work: “I hesitate to say this. I haven’t felt the kind of liberation, the kind of joy in the making of it, since I wrote Midnight’s Children,”
And then of course there is the enchantress of Florence, also the enchantress of the emperor, the enchantress of the three friends and in the end just as unenchanting and uninteresting as the rest of the people that inhabits Rushdie's world (I wonder if he wrote this after he was dumped by his supermodel wife). With this novel the author ironically falls into the same trap as many current Hollywood producers: if you go hyperbole on everything the box-office earnings will also be proportionally over the top. This might even work for the LA sharks but when it comes to a writer whom we expect to deliver amazing content, the result is rather disappointing. If you make the leading characters larger than life and spend every single sentence describing the amazing, tremendous, breathtaking, breath stopping, breath giving, life giving and most of all God/Goddess-like qualities of your protagonists, then if you want to make them seem human you will need to show an equally dark side. This Rushdie does not do and instead ends the novel by demurely describing how boring and ordinary everyone in his novel really is, something the reader has already figured out from the first page.
I was so surprised by the strangely disappointing narrative and plot of this book that I started searching for other reviews. As it turns out mine is rather nice compared to other people who do not have many nice words to say (I'm thinking of the New York Times review) It is almost as if Rushdie is either tired of writing or so over-confident that he now thinks he can get away with using all the tropes we're told we should never be using in our own writing. Weeks after I finished the book I still remember a sentence from the New York Times review in which the reviewer wondered if there was still anyone who used sentences that described someone as having a 'silvery tongue'.
There were lots of little hidden jokes and meanings in the text. I'm sure that I didn't pick up on them all. For example, in the beginning, the Emperor fights the ruler of the kingdom of Kuch Nahin, which means "nothing". The Kingdom of Nothing. I also liked how he made the distinction between Jodha Bai and Mariam-uz-Zamani. Mariam was his real wife while Jodha Bai was a phantom. I interpret this to be Rushdie's way of pointing out how the historical figure which people call Jodha Bai was never Jodha Bai - the name was incorrectly given to Mariam-uz-Zamani much later and so this is why Jodha Bai is a fictional being while Mariam is very real.
I didn't like the parts that took place in Italy. I thought they were a little boring and a little complicated. I mostly enjoyed the parts that took place in the Mughal Court.
Mr Rushdie's novels assume the masculine world as the sole legitimate logic. There is no need for justification for what is normal, inevitable and in itself , the proper social order. The male social order excludes women from the noblest tasks and designates inferior places for them like the whores in Mr Rushdie's books. So long as a woman is a whore she will not write a better book or laugh at an emperor who has his best sex with an imaginary woman.
In other areas of course, Mr Rushdie challenges his readers to the core. I find the lengthy debates in the general subjects of philosophy, history and religion by his characters to be irresistable. Rushdie's prose, is ,of course beautiful, but the stories told by his characters sometimes create confusing layers where you are not sure who is talking, whether the story is present or past, real or imagined. The interaction of religious myth with political ambition and how it has shaped human history is nevertheless presented in all of its absurdity.
"If you were an atheist, Birbal," the emperor challenged his first minister, "what would you say to the true believers of all of the great religions of the world?"....Birbal..answered "I would say to them that in my opinion they were atheists as well; I merely believe in one less god than each of them..All true believers have good reasons for disbelieving in every god except their own, ...and so it is they who, between them, give me all the reasons for believing in none."
"When life got too complicated for the men of the Mughal court they turned to the old women for answers"
Very funny but don't let that fool you. As with most of Mr Rushdie's writing, women simply do not exist as people in any sense. In this book they are whores and at about 2/3 through the book I was getting sick of reading about them. Princesses, Queens, children, old women, goddesses, they are all fucking whores. This is traditional male religious thinking and it is very old, as old as all the church fathers who ever taught that women had no soul, as old as the male dominated cultures that equate women's intelligence with evil , and regarded the birth of a daughter as a curse.
Women at least have a sense of humour though the Ayatollah did not and Mr Rushdie is very funny. The first 120 pages of Enchantress blazed by for me. Thereafter, it was a little slower, I kept stumbling over all the whores. I wanted to stay in the Tent and listen to the discussion.
Here is another quote,
"When the sword of the tongue is drawn, the emperor thought, it inflicts deeper cuts than the sharpest blade"
"Paradox, sire," Mogor dell 'Amore answered cheekily, "is a knot that allows a man (of course , a man, who else is there?) to seem intelligent even as it is trussing his brain like a hen bound for the pot.....A man may wallow in the bogs of paradox until his last day without ever thinking a clear thought worthy of the name"
Oscar Wilde and Gilbert and Sullivan of course knew that a paradox is for entertainment not for thinking. "I love a good paradox "sang young Frederick the pirate. Consider however the earnest young John Kennedy "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". Profound or utterly stupid? A paradox is no guide for life or a system of government.
"One must stand outside a circle to see that it is round"
Not necessarily, (women can see things from all directions) but it was a good exuse for accepting the statement that in the Tent it was reason , not the King , that ruled, and therefore one could express any view. Anything of course within a male dominated philosophy and culture, certainly no one ever wondered about all the whores and the wanton killings. Nevertheless there are many interesting questions,
"why one should hold fast to a religion not because it was true but because it was the faith of one's fathers. Was faith not faith but simple family habit? Maybe there was no true religion but only this eternal handing down. And error could be handed down as easily as virtue. Was faith no more than an error of our ancestors?...he wanted to be able to say it is man at the centre of things not god.....If he, Akbar, stepped outside the circle, could he live without its comforting circularity, in the terrifying strangeness of a new thought?"
If men, including Mr Rushdie, stepped out of their comforting history, religion, culture and myths, which assure them of their superiority, their male fantasies of women as unthinking whores, could they even live much less have a new thought.? Men must after all be at the centre of everything, even creation, usurping the place of the gods, for man must have it all. Until then he will never be truly secure.
And speaking of male myths, lets talk about the jolly whorehouse , the women who matter so little they are simply part of the charming scenery. They could be sheep grazing in the field or bright awnings rolled out in the spring. Mr Rushdie may not be original here but he is colourful. It is not enough to say that in those days women had no voice or power so they can be left out of the story. Women have always had lives and a story without them or with them only as a male fantasy will always be only half a story, never true and never real.
"the world of the whorehouse came flooding back...the dancing bears and dwarf jugglers reappeared, ..of course the women came back too, the wild Slav harlots, the melancholy Polish doxies, the loud Roman strumpets, the thick German tarts, the Swiss mercenaries as ferocious in bed as their male counterparts were on the field of battle...fine Tuscan goods, both of them, ...and blessed the city , like an angel pronouncing the rebirth of joy"
History knows a different story, one quite far from the rebirth of joy, but suspend disbelief. Women love abuse, children are sexual objects and Africans exist to be beaten. From Joseph Conrad to Salman Rushdie, the male quest story has changed little.
In fact Mr Rushdie takes the male fantasy of women as notentities, or negative entities one step further. He creates a woman who doesn't even exist. The emperor, Akbar, has an imaginary wife called Jodha. Of course she is his favourite and he makes passionate love to her. (just don't think about it too much)
"The creation of a real life from a dream was a superhuman act, usurping the prerogative of the gods"
"At night she stood under the little cupola on the top story of the Panch Mahal and scanned the horizon for the return of the king who made her real."
Now there is the ultimate male fantasy. A woman who was created by man, not the gods, and depended, for her very existence on a man.
As for the rest of the book, well it was just a great story. The whores took backstage and our heroes played out their destiny. We never went back to the tent though and for that i was sorry. I will have to go back and reread that part. It is full of delightful dialogue.
Worrisome was the moment when I read the opening pages of The Enchantress of Florence and was reminded of The Moor’s Last Sigh. Oh, no, not another Rushdie man-on-the-run story! I’ve all but abandoned The Moor’s Last Sigh, convinced Rushdie will never tell me what happened to make the Moor run and, if he does, it will not justify all the pages I’ve waited for an answer to that question. Thankfully, blessedly, Rushdie has finally discovered how to delicately pace and suspend a story, feeding it out as gently as a fishing line on a still lake. Instead of an endless digression about the centuries leading up to the stranger’s appearance, we learn that our new stranger, the Mughal of Love, is a vessel of small secrets, such as how to make water disappear, and larger secrets, such as what happened to Emperor Akbar the Great’s missing great aunt, Qara Koz. The Mughal’s intentions and those secrets are not frivolous, or a mere joke to be laughed at and dismissed. No, these secrets carry the dramatic impetus for all the novel’s action, they justify nearly every layer of story that subsequently unfolds within the novel’s pages, each of those stories containing their own secrets and revelations, until just when we feel buried beneath the layers, Emperor Akbar the Great takes our hand and leads us into a future, not necessarily brighter, but at least with our eyes opened and a sense of where we’ve come from. If only the winner of the upcoming Presidential election could lead us into such a hopeful future. But I digress.
Poised between the stories of Emperor Akbar and the Mughal of Love is the story of three friends in Renaissance Italy -- Niccolo Machiavelli, Antonino Argalia, and Ago Vespucci. Unlike in The Satanic Verses where the turn of a page meant centuries inexplicably skipped and the novel’s subtext permitted to run amok, the stories of the three friends, is braided into the story of the Emperor and the Mughal of Love like cords threaded to make a sturdy rope. In a satisfying subversion of our expectations, we are spared the Machiavelli of our history books and instead given a carouser who settles into the politically appointed job he’d yearned for, only to have the tides turn, become banished and spend his days sulking and writing a little book that might get him another job. It is Argalia’s story of the rise from slave to Turkish General that forms the East-West connection that brings the eastern princess Qara Koz to Florence and tightens the cords between all the stories.
Female characters in Rushdie novels are habitually women to be reckoned with but so overblown, so larger-than-life that they are difficult to be read as more than symbols in a magically realistic world; there is nothing shrinking about Rushdie’s violets. While Qara Koz is the Enchantress of the novel’s title and her beauty is beyond that of other women, rumors of her magical powers have been greatly exaggerated. Her true magic lies in her ability to cultivate those rumors and create a cone of space where she can be relatively free, though her safety and position remain subject to the whims of the power-playing men who surround her. Her character is successful counterpoint to that of Emperor Akbar for the very reason that Rushdie has pulled back on his usual excesses and made Qara Koz the closest thing to a human female character that he’s ever written. There were more than a few moments where I could identify with this woman, her choices, her struggles. Both she and the emperor questioned limitations placed on them by their sex and their titles, both struggled with the nature of power and how to avoid becoming its victim – a nod to Machiavelli’s place in the novel, but not overdone. There was certainly no sign of a subtext running rampant through this landscape.
Missteps in this novel were few and far between. The few digressions that Rushdie let loose, such as the story of a giant who wants a snackeral or that of the potato witches, can be forgiven as easily as a television commercial interrupting our favorite show. The fact that most other females in this book were shrewish, stupid, or bent on revenge – well, that’s just Rushdie and it’s enough for this reader that one woman in the bunch was salvageable. The only misstep that felt as though it threatened the novel’s otherwise finely-balanced form was the ending. Yes, when all other criticism eludes us, pick on the ending. But in the symphony that is a novel, finding that perfect note to end on – well, that’s where all writers need to dig deep. Having the Mughal of Love’s story end with a tale of incest in the New World stands out as broken cord from an otherwise perfectly wrought rope. I could almost feel the struggle on the page: how do I make the Mughal believable as a son of Qara Koz? Magic versus Realism? Mughal believes the magic, but it is Emperor Akbar, the man who has been entranced by a magical lover throughout the novel, who dismisses the magic and in favor of raw incest as the answer. However, within a few pages, he returns to magic for the answer when he replaces his magical lover with a new magical guide. This disconnection between character, plot, and the novel’s subtext taints the otherwise well-balanced feast. Just a bit too much salt in the soup … otherwise perfect.
What we wind up with is something not only intriguing but highly entertaining as well. From my past readings of Rushdie works I don't think he's ever quite been on top of his game in terms of verve or wit as he is here. The plot can get complicated at times and one needs to keep in mind a variety of characters and the number of intrigues and ruses being employed to gain and retain favor in their respective societies. All in all though I found it a lot a fun and I would recommend it strongly.
It's easy to use words like "evocative" when describing this book. There are layers of story all piled on top of each other, with digressions to the past and the future, asides and commentary, that can be a bit overwhelming. I would caution the reader not to try to pin down every detail of the story while reading. Much better to the let the story flow over you, and trust that you are picking up what you need.
Recommendation: For patient readers who are willing to let the shape of the story emerge gradually.
No comment on the book, didn't get far enough to form an opinion.
When LT offered this one (The Enchantress of Florence) up as an early review novel, I decided to give it a try, and I was delighted to be one of the few to receive a copy. I knew nothing about Salman Rushdie going in - barring what you read in the papers about the fatwa and his famous wife. But I've wanted to read one of his books for a while, so this seemed like as good a time to start as any.
Though, in retrospect, maybe not.
This is a meandering story that flows all over the place. It is, in fact, several stories in one. You have Italian explorers mingling with Mughal emperors, Mughal princess(es) mingling with Italian explorers, Niccolo Machiavelli plays quite a significant role, as well as the cousin of Amerigo Vespucci. Each one of them has a story to tell. It is if Rushdie's gift were historical research and he strove hard to find a way to blend all of these characters together.
He kind of pulls it off, but in the end you have to wonder if maybe just one of these stories alone could have been fleshed out enough to warrant a single novel. Certainly one of the main stories. The downside is that he's so focused on the history (with which I cannot tell if he's being accurate or taking liberties) and the many story lines, the characters get lost in the shuffle. You just don't end up really caring about any of them.
Where Rushdie shines, however, is in his writing. The man can string together a wonderful set of sentences. He's got a grasp on the language befitting a scholar of his caliber. The emperor's internal dialogs about whether or not he should be addressed - and think of himself as - the third person or first person was especially captivating to me. But maybe that's because I'm a grammar geek to begin with.
I think the writing is what will bring me back for more. I have Midnight's Children on my list of important books to read, and based on this one I'll certainly be giving it a try. I just won't be sending copies of The Enchantress of Florence out to my friends as gifts.
What I enjoyed most about this book is getting a glimpse into the mind of Rushdie's version of Akbar the Great. He comes across as brilliant, forceful, inquisitive mind who is aware of the responsibility that comes from the power that he wields. The very embodiment of the philosopher-king.
The second great thing about this book is the simply dazzling writing. I was carried along, page after page, by the compelling and fanciful storytelling.
At this point in his career, Rushdie can perhaps be excused a little frolic for his own pleasure and certainly if you find yourself lolling about on silk cushions on a warm afternoon wishing to be lulled into an opium-like dream, there are worse choices for the reader.
I found the story to be engrossing and the characters to be enchanting. I loved the vague mysticism and surreal touches here and there. The only thing that I didn't like was the ending. In my opinion the ending solidifies too much that was previously ambiguous. Now, it is true that the summation of the story of the Enchantress and ‘Mogor dell’Amore’ is either on one side entirely in the imagination of Akbar or on the other being told by a ghost (this is at least somewhat unclear), but even if we cannot trust that the ending is "actually" what happened (in the story obviously), it still feels to concrete.
I would have preferred, I think, to have just left the question of Mogor's origin as cloudy and uncertain as possible.
Otherwise, the book was excellent. Throughout there were nice touches of magic. The magic though is never really witnessed in the present action of the story...maybe in a few places...which leaves the reader wondering.
I've read some of the less positive reviews here, and I can't really argue with them; it's true that the Machiavelli character isn't really fleshed out or dynamic or particularly interesting, but that didn't negatively impact the book for me.
The reader arrives with an unnamed traveler into the Mughal Empire, to the court of Akbar the Great. He tells the emperor that he has traveled a very long way to tell him this story personally; the story he relates is of the power of the enchantress of Florence.
Rushdie has said that he was fascinated by the shift in society's idea of women from being "witches" to being "enchantresses." There is a new fear and fascination with female sexuality when paired with their autonomy, and in this book, that is powerful enough to keep an entire city captivated. Rushdie does not generally champion feminism, but this is a provocative read as a feminist text, when the female characters take center stage and men are the ones relegated to the "second tier," as storyteller and audience.
That's the summary by Amazon which can only be used to get the slightest gllimpse of this story's narrative. This imaginative novel requires some work, but I found the fact checking to be part of the pleasure, seeing how Rushdie conneected known facts with magical realism to weave an assortment of stories into the narrative. At times I had my laptop opened to Google just so I could learn some of the history of the Mughal Empire, Akbar the Great and his nine stars; then in Florence the novel contained events about the de Medici family and Machiavelli, but in all these cases they are mostly just the framework for the narrative. We become more interested n those fictional characters who either tell the tale - Mogor dell Amor or the person they are about - usually a beautiful women - Qara Kos, or Simonetta or Allesandria.
I heard an interview with Rushdie about the 10 years of research that went into the background building of this novel- it is an impressive testament to his preparation. This is the first novel I have read by the author but will definately be looking to pick up Midnight's children. That book was recently awarded the distiction of being the best of the Booker Prize selections.
We have an Italian nobleman, Il Machio (who, I figured out embarrassingly late, is Niccolo Machiavelli), who travels to the Mughal Empire (in present-day India and Pakistan) and claims he is the Emperor's uncle. There turns out to be some possible justification for this improbable claim, and Il Machio enjoys favor in the court for a time. The eponymous Enchantress has the power to put entire cities in her thrall, which she does the capital, for most of the book; she can also come back from the dead.
A good part of this book's energy flows from this tension: men have temporal power over women in this world, but women have emotional power over men. For all its fabulous subject matter, this book is firmly planted in the ground of real human nature. The Emperor is given considerable intuitive powers, and is an enlightened ruler for the age, but eventually Il Machio's stars dim, and all his good fortune must turn.
I enjoyed this book thoroughly - I didn't know what to expect from Rushdie. What I got was highly imaginative and picked me up and carried me away. Recommended.