Amazon Best of the Month, June 2008
: Trying to describe a Salman Rushdie novel is like trying to describe music to someone who has never heard it--you can fumble with a plot summary but you won't be able to convey the wonder of his dazzling prose or the imaginative complexity of his vision. At its heart, The Enchantress of Florence
is about the power of story--whether it is the imagined life of a Mughal queen, or the devastating secret held by a silver-tongued Florentine. Make no mistake, it is Rushdie who is the true "enchanter" of this story, conjuring readers into his gilded fairy tale from the very first sentence: "In the day's last light the glowing lake below the palace-city looked like a sea of molten gold." At once bawdy, gorgeous, gory, and hilarious, The Enchantress of Florence
is a study in contradiction, highlighted in its barbarian philosopher-king who detests his bloodthirsty heritage even while he carries it out. Full of rich sentences running nearly the length of a page, Rushdie's 10th novel blends fact and fable into a challenging but satisfying read. --Daphne Durham
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Renaissance Florence's artistic zenith and Mughal India's cultural summit—reached the following century, at Emperor Akbar's court in Sikri—are the twin beacons of Rushdie's ingenious latest, a dense but sparkling return to form. The connecting link between the two cities and epochs is the magically beautiful hidden princess, Qara Köz, so gorgeous that her uncovered face makes battle-hardened warriors drop to their knees. Her story underlies the book's circuitous journey.A mysterious yellow-haired man in a multicolored coat steps off a rented bullock cart and walks into 16th-century Sikri: he speaks excellent Persian, has a stock of conjurer's tricks and claims to be Akbar's uncle. He carries with him a letter from Queen Elizabeth I, which he translates for Akbar with vast incorrectness. But it is the story of Akbar's great-aunt, Qara Köz, that the man (her putative son) has come to the court to tell. The tale dates to the time of Akbar's grandfather, Babar (Qara Köz's brother), and it involves her relationship with the Persian Shah. In the Shah's employ is Janissary general Nino Argalia, an Italian convert to Islam, whose own story takes the narrative to Renaissance Florence. Rushdie eventually presents an extended portrait of Florence through the eyes of Niccolò Machiavelli and Ago Vespucci, cousin of the more famous Amerigo. Rushdie's portrayal of Florence pales in comparison with his depiction of Mughal court society, but it brings Rushdie to his real fascination here: the multitudinous, capillary connections between East and West, a secret history of interchanges that's disguised by standard histories in which West discovers East.Along the novel's roundabout way, Qara Köz does seem more alive as a sexual obsession in the tales swapped by various men than as her own person. Genial Akbar, however, emerges as the most fascinating character in the book. Chuang Tzu tells of a man who dreams of being a butterfly and, on waking up, wonders whether he is now a butterfly dreaming he is a man. In Rushdie's version of the West and East, the two cultures take on a similar blended polarity in Akbar as he listens to the tales. Each culture becomes the dream of the other. (June)
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