Title: The Enchantress of Florence
Author: Salman Rushdie
Release Date: May 27, 2008
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
From the dust jacket:
A tall, yellow-haired young European 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 Koz, “Little Black Eyes,” a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, who is taken captive first by an Uzbeg warlorf, then by the Shah of Persia, and finally becomes the lover of a certain Argalia, a Florentine soldier of forture, commander of the armies of the Ottoman sultan. When Argalia returns home with his Mughal mistress, the city is mesmerized by her presence, and much trouble ensues.
The Enchantress of Florence is the story of a woman attempting to command her own destiny in a man’s world. It brings together two cities that barely know each other – the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant Emperor wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire, and the treachery of sons, and the equally sensual Florentine world of powerful courtesans, humansit philosophy and inhuman torture, where Argalia’s boyhood friend ‘il Machia’ – Niccolo Machiavelli – is learning, the hard way, about the true bruality of power. These two worlds, so far apart, turn out to be uncannily alke, and the enchantments of women hold sway over them both.
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?
How does one go about reviewing a Salman Rushdie novel? This is the first time I’ve tried, and I feel like his books are so complex and layered, with so many meanings for so many different people, that I’m not going to do it justice no matter what I say. But I’m going to try anyways.
This novel has garnered a lot of criticism, from reviewers to regular readers. It was famously omitted from the finalists for the 2008 Booker Prize. Despite all that, I went into the story with a clear head, without any preconceived notions, and am happy to say that I quite enjoyed it! I understand many of the criticisms, but those elements didn’t ruin the book for me. No, it is not on par with many other Rushdie works, but it still cast a spell over me.
The story itself is quite entertaining, and the descriptions of Emperor Akbar’s court really are wondrous. As always, Rushdie works some magic into his stories, and I love the way they are employed in this novel. I thought it was interesting that he made Jodhaa, Akbar’s Hindu wife, a figment of Akbar’s imagination. A recent Bollywood movie called Jodhaa Akbar is about Emperor Akbar and the Empress Jodhaa, and while she was most definitely not imaginary, I wonder what those who have seen the movie have to say about that. (I have not seen the movie, but it’s number 3 on my Netflix queue!) I was simply amused by the whole thing.
The one real criticism I can make about The Enchantress of Florence is that it is wordy. Not is the sense that it is too long, or there is too much story; in fact, I thought the book was an appropriate length and quite readable. Instead, I mean that he simply uses too many words in his descriptions. This can make the book more confusing than necessary if you are not paying close attention.
Despite that, I found this book easier to read than a lot of Rushdie’s other works. I’m guessing that the reason for this is that this book doesn’t seem to run nearly as deep as The Satanic Verses or The Moor’s Last Sigh. While that is disappointing in some respects, it actually makes the book a decent introduction to Rushdie. For readers who haven’t approached his novels because they seem to be too dense, my opinion is that The Enchantress of Florence might be the book for you. Yes it has its faults, and yes, there are other Rushdie books that are better, but this novel is simply easier to read.
However, if you have read Rushdie before and are expecting a novel at least on par with his earlier works, I’m sorry to say that this isn’t it. Despite that, I still enjoyed The Enchantress of Florence and would recommend it to anyone who has an open mind!
[Note: I used the European book cover as the cover image because I bought my copy of The Enchantress of Florence in Italy, so that's why my cover looked like!]