Monday, March 25, 2013

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
Published May 2008 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: Bought this one in an airport bookstore then bought the audio at the library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
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 Köz, ‘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.

The Enchantress of Florence is a love story and a mystery – 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, humanist philosophy and inhuman torture, where Argalia’s boyhood friend ‘il Machia’ – Niccolò Machiavelli – is learning, the hard way, about the true brutality of power. These two worlds, so far apart, turn out to be uncannily alike, 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?  

My Thoughts:
I know it's an overused phrase but I think the fact that I bought this one twice proves the point is valid: I really wanted to love this book. Rushdie is so respected, I've always enjoyed listening to him speak, and this book sounds so interesting.

If you follow me on Twitter, or remember my comments on Sunday Salons, you'll already know that I didn't love this book. It was just so darn much work. So many characters who appear for only a paragraph or two, so many digressions, so much philosophy. I have nothing against philosophy in a book, really I don't, but when it completely stalls the action of a book, then I have a problem with it.

I have mixed feelings about having listened to this one rather than having read it. While the narration was very good, like Junot Diaz' The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, the book was both enhanced by the listening experience and held back. If I'd been reading many of the names, I might well have gone through the entire book struggling to figure out how they should be pronounced but they were beautiful as narrated, for example. On the other hand, the first sentence of each chapter is also the name of the chapter; when narrated one right after another, it sounds rather silly. And, let's be honest, it can be hard to focus on a book you're listening to when you're also trying to do something else, like drive without running into anything. This book demands that you pay attention.

Did you catch the part in the summary where it mentioned sorcery? Yeah, that could have been part of my problem, too. I struggle with magic in books (although I've always, inexplicably, loved Isabel Allende). Oddly, I sometimes found myself thinking this book might have benefited from more, rather than less, magic.

I would have liked the chance to linger over descriptions and little gems ("from her perfect nose there emerged the faintest little ghost of a snore) and the opportunity to skim over sections that were taking me out of the story. Or, perhaps, when I was able to fully focus on these sections, I might have enjoyed them more.

While I didn't end up loving this one, I did find quite a lot about it to like, particularly after doing some research to find out how much of the story is based in fact (quite a lot of the characters were real people and many of the events actually happened). Still, I doubt it's one I would recommend despite Rushdie's amazing writing.
"-then the prison of silence was unlocked, and trumpets burst out, and cheers, and people were finally able to tell each other everything they had been obliged to keep unsaid for months on end. I love you. My mother is dead. Your soup tastes good. If you do not pay me the money you owe me I will break your arms at the elbows. My darling, I love you too. Everything."


  1. I have always found Rushde heavy going.
    Thanks for the review

  2. I bought all of Rushdie's books at one point and donated them all unread -- just not for me. I applaud u!

  3. I have only managed to get through one of Rushdie's books, and I know what you mean about the characters coming in and out, and the philosophy. It's just not my thing. I want it to be my thing, and I think he is a very intelligent and erudite author, but his books are just not for me. Thank you for putting into words something that I had trouble realizing and expressing.

  4. I actually bought this book in Florence before its release here in U.S. I was so excited to find it written in English and in hard cover. I paid a small fortune for it. Still am glad I did it. Have not read it. Can you believe it? I have only read one of Rushdie's books: SHALIMAR THE CLOWN. It was a difficult read but I read it with a club years ago. It was wonderful. Thanks for the honest review.

  5. I have done that (bought something twice) and then ended up not liking it. Well, you can say that you've read him now. I have not and if I do, it probably won't be this book as I can't stand magic either, unless it's a kid's book.

  6. I have yet read one of his, though I hear he's great. I just picked up the Satanic Verses...It's recommended as one of the 501 books I must read before I die! I'll have to give him a go knowing that he will take a lot of my attention. Wonderful review as always!

  7. I've loved some Rushdie books and hated others. I always do enjoy his writing, but sometimes it can be a little bit much. Weirdly, his are the only books (I've read so far) where I can deal with magical realism. It's because he makes a lot of silly puns.