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The Enchantress of Florence: A Novel Paperback – January 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews Review

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

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 355 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679640517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679640516
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (154 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sir Salman Rushdie is the author of many novels including Grimus, Midnight's Children, Shame, The Satanic Verses, The Moor's Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury, Shalimar the Clown and The Enchantress of Florence. He has also published works of non-fiction including, The Jaguar Smile, Imaginary Homelands, The Wizard of Oz and, as co-editor, The Vintage Book of Short Stories.

He has received many awards for his writing including the European Union's Aristeion Prize for Literature. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres. In 1993 Midnight's Children was judged to be the 'Booker of Bookers', the best novel to have won the Booker Prize in its first 25 years. In June 2007 he received a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This mesmerizing novel, even more charming, entertaining and thought-provoking than his Booker-winning "Midnight's Children", dazzles like a genuine gem. Written in prose so indescribably beautiful and absorbing that I found myself holding my breath involuntarily countless number of times, this book will most certainly elevate Rushdie's well earned lofty place in the literary world even higher.

This novel is not one long story; rather, it is a marvelous narration and compilation of several stories, each bewitching in its own way. On the surface, it is the story of a handsome, golden haired man named Mogor dell'Amore (Mughal of Love), who claims that he is a descendant of Emperor Akbar's grandfather's youngest sister, a princess of great beauty, the Mughal princess Qaara Koz. Also, this novel is partly based on history, the rest is a combination of fable, fantasy, and Rushdie's florid imagination: the great Mughal Emperor of India, Akbar, and his sons are historic; but the golden haired enchantress of Florence, I think, is a product of Rushdie's imagination or fantasy. The novel can also be read as a story about the clash of two civilizations: The Mughal Empire in the East, and the "empire" of the Medicis and Machiavelli of Florence in the West. This book can be called novel only in a broad sense; to call it an epic, perhaps, would be more appropriate.

Very rarely do readers get an opportunity to read prose as lovely and grand and mesmerizing as Rushdie's prose in this book. The cumulative effect of reading lovely passages on top of dazzling passages will surely overwhelm the reader: "Fires began to burn in the twilight, like warnings. From the black bowl of the sky came the answering fires of the stars.
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Terri B. on June 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Enchantress of Florence begins with a mysterious yellow-haired stranger standing astride a bullock cart as he enters the domain of the emperor of India. He is godlike in stance, yet in appearance he is as a fool with his "overly pretty face" and parti-colored coat. The city to which he arrives is one of the grand cities of the world in both scale and wealth. Even the nearby lake seems to be made of gold. This of course is just an illusion brought about by the setting of the sun, but is an appropriate introduction to the story since it will become difficult to separate the real from the imagined as the story progresses.

The yellow-haired man is a teller of stories and he has arrived to tell a story to the Mughal of India that will either bring him fortune or cost him his life. This young man has represented himself to the Emperor Akbar as an emissary of Queen Elizabeth I. The emperor challenges the stranger's identity and would dismiss him except the yellow-haired man, who calls himself first Uccello of Florence and then Mogor dell'Amore (mogul of love), begins to weave the enchanting story of Qara Koz, the enchantress of Florence, who he claims is his mother.

But what is the Emperor to make of the stranger's story? What are we to make of the story we are reading? Identities and reality are not always clear within this magical novel. Who is the story-telling stranger? Is Qara Koz really the stranger's mother? Even the Emperor is not sure if he is simply an "I" like everyone else or a "we" of divine royalty. Reality is tenuous. Characters are imagined yet given "space" and relationship. Painters disappear into their own paintings. The story-teller feels himself fading away to nothingness when kept from telling his story.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful By tregatt on June 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Years ago (more than I'd like to think about), one of my tutors recommended that I read Salman Rushdie's "Haroun and the Sea of Stories." I tried to finish the novel but have to confess that I didn't. I probably lacked the sophistication back then to appreciate the exquisite prose style and painstaking craftsmanship that went into creating that award winning novel. And truthfully speaking I rather thought that Salman Rushdie was going to be one of the many winning authours that would never make to my reading pile. But something about "The Enchantress of Florence" beckoned, and I decided to give it a go. And I'm truly glad that I did. What an exceptionally enthralling and compelling read "The Enchantress of Florence" turned out to be.

The Mughal Emperor, Akbar, is ready for a diversion away from the woes of family and ruling a vast nation, when a mysterious yellow-haired stranger arrives at his court in Fatepur Sikri, claiming to be an ambassador from England. The stranger has many tales to tell about the distant European city of Florence, and the enchantress from the East that enraptured the people of Florence with her beauty and grace, and soon everyone in Sikri is enthralled by the young storyteller's tales. But will these stories prove the undoing of the court, and will Akbar's growing affection for the storyteller cause even more strife amongst his family?

When I was a child, my mother used to subscribe to an Indian magazine for women that had recipes, articles, sewing tips and vignettes about Akbar and his wise advisor Birbal. Reading "The Enchantress of Florence" transported me back to those wonderful carefree days.
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