Summary and book reviews of The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

The Enchantress of Florence

By Salman Rushdie

The Enchantress of Florence
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  • Hardcover: May 2008,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2009,
    368 pages.

    Publication Information

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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About this Book

Book Summary

A tall, yellow-haired, young European traveler calling himself “Mogor dell’Amore,” the Mughal of Love, arrives at the court of the Emperor Akbar, lord of the great Mughal empire, with a tale to tell that begins to obsess the imperial capital, a tale about a mysterious woman, a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, and her impossible journey to the far-off city of Florence.

The Enchantress of Florence is the story of a woman attempting to command her own destiny in a man’s world. It is the story of two cities, unknown to each other, at the height of their powers–the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant Akbar the Great wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire, and the treachery of his sons, and the equally sensual city of Florence during the High Renaissance, where Niccolò Machiavelli takes a starring role as he learns, the hard way, about the true brutality of power.

Vivid, gripping, irreverent, bawdy, profoundly moving, and completely absorbing, The Enchantress of Florence is a dazzling book full of wonders by one of the world’s most important living writers.

Chapter 1

In the day’s last light the glowing lake

In the day’s last light the glowing lake below the -palace-city looked like a sea of molten gold. A traveler coming this way at sunset - this traveler, coming this way, now, along the lakeshore - might believe himself to be approaching the throne of a monarch so fabulously wealthy that he could allow a portion of his treasure to be poured into a giant hollow in the earth to dazzle and awe his guests. And as big as the lake of gold was, it must be only a drop drawn from the sea of the larger fortune - the traveler's imagination could not begin to grasp the size of that mother-ocean! Nor were there guards at the golden water's edge; was the king so generous, then, that he allowed all his subjects, and perhaps even strangers and visitors like the traveler himself, without hindrance to draw up liquid bounty from the lake? That would indeed be a prince among men, a veritable Prester John, whose lost kingdom of song and fable ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Rushdie's larger points that literature (storytelling) should be the agent for understanding and that people are essentially the same is well heard and, after 500 pages, well-explained, but the novel contemplates little else. The plot circulates around itself, and though some scenes (sections in Italy and Akbar's palace come to mind) are lucid and engaging, the nonlinear sections are so frequent and so confusing that they undermine any brilliance the clearer narrative sections possess. One finds oneself anxiously looking forwards and backwards in the narrative for a point of reference; and the slog is difficult. There are clear, beautiful moments to be found; and some of the characters, The Enchantress for one, jump off the page. Yet, the plot and the connection between the characters is unclear. By the end, it seems that the novels objective is simply to confuse, providing neither the benefit of a satisfying conclusion or the key to the central riddle.

Overall, there are some brilliant moments and those fond of Rushdie's earlier works might be interested in wading into this one.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (954 words).

Media Reviews
New York Times - David Gates

The Enchantress of Florence is so pious — especially in its impiety — so pleased with itself and so besotted with the sound of its own voice that even the tritest fancies get a free pass. "But imagine, Jodha," Akbar tells his imaginary wife, "if we could awake in other men’s dreams and change them, and if we had the courage to invite them into ours. What if the whole world became a single waking dream?" Not that again — didn't Samuel Johnson squelch such Berkeleyan whimsies back in the 18th century by kicking a stone? Maybe it's just my philistine cussedness talking, but life’s just too short.

Los Angeles Times - Amy Wilentz

The magical realism in "Enchantress" is all artifice and diversion. Its decorative beauty disguises truth, or avoids it, and keeps the reader pointlessly mystified. No style should be a substitute for a story. Plot is the hard work of novel-writing. Rather than dealing with difficult reality, which is the writer's perhaps unpleasant but necessary duty, Rushdie forces Qara Köz from the Mughal Empire into Florence to make a few dubious points, distracting readers from the logistical plot problems in the book's flabby middle. In magical realism as it is practiced by Rushdie, timelines are as naught. Simultaneity is all. This can make the work seem less like great literature and, at moments, more like automatic scribbling.

Bloomberg

Blending ornate imagery with knowing, saber-swift wit to conjure up cunning escapes, dashing victories and legendary seductions…beyond its magical razzle-dazzle lays a work of steely contemporary relevance.

Elle

[A] prodigious fever dream of a book…A beguiling, incandescent tale of travel, treachery, and transformation

Kirkus Reviews

Readers who succumb to the spell of Rushdie's convoluted, cross-continental fable may find it enchanting; those with less patience could consider it interminable.....Rapturously poetic in places, very funny in others, yet the novel ultimately challenges both patience and comprehension.

Booklist

Starred Review. Entertainment of the highest literary order.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Rushdie's lushly evocative creation of the mysteries and intrigues of a medieval world and his enchanting and seductive stories captivate and transport us in ways reminiscent of his early novels like Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses.

The Economist

Paragraph by paragraph, this is a carefully wrought and often exquisite book, but the overall effect is as rich and stultifying as a month-long diet of foie gras.

Of course, like Bellow and Mr Roth, Mr Rushdie's mediocre writing exceeds most novelists' best. But Mr Rushdie ought to bear in mind that a novelist is at heart a storyteller, not a serial creator of self-delighting sentences.

Sunday Times - Helen Dunmore

In fact, whether it is a novel at all in the usual sense of the word is doubtful. It's a haul of stories, gathered with magpie glee, arranged to glitter. Self-consciousness is one of the book's main purposes. Rushdie keeps coming back to his reflections on the nature of story itself, and the way in which a human being understands himself and his dilemma through story.

The Guardian (UK)

This brilliant, fascinating, generous novel swarms with gorgeous young women both historical and imagined, beautiful queens and irresistible enchantresses... ...[a] sumptuous, impetuous mixture of history with fable.

Financial Times - John Sutherland

For Rushdie, the pen is a magician’s wand…If The Enchantress of Florence doesn’t win this year’s Man Booker I’ll curry my proof copy and eat it.

The Telegraph - Stephen Abell

[A] splendid farrago...An all-dancing, colourful performance leaping up from the pages.

India Today

Rushdie, like an inspired fabulist, achieves the impossible by turning the tale of two cities into a narrative of perpetual reinvention. An exuberant celebration of storytelling…a story that enchants the reader and enriches the art of the novel.

Reader Reviews
Cloggie Downunder

a very enjoyable Rushdie
The Enchantress of Florence is the 10th book by Salman Rushdie. Set amongst the extremes and excesses of Renaissance Florence and in the city of Fatehpur Sikri in Mughal India, it tells the story of a hidden Mughal princess, Princess Qara Köz, the ...   Read More

Lakeqi

You have to get it
This is a book that requires first and foremost a love of and prior knowledge of world history, and particularly of Indian history. If you don't have this prior knowledge (which all truly cultured people should), its likely that you just won't get it...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Akbar the Great

Salman Rushdie did a tremendous amount of research before writing The Enchantress of Florence, as evidenced by its six-page bibliography. Many of the characters are drawn from history, the most interesting and prominent being Akbar the Great.

As in the book, Akbar the Great was known to be a wise and benevolent ruler. He ruled the Mughal Empire (map), founded by his grandfather, from 1556 to 1605, taking the throne at just 13 years of age. He was ...

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