The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie

The Enchantress of Florence is all about a Florentine stranger who comes to the court of Mughal emperor Akbar the Great (heehee, get it?) with a story to tell.  He claims that he is Akbar’s uncle (ish), the son of a great-aunt Akbar never knew existed.  It’s a bold claim, but the stranger is a bold man; and in the days that follow, he entrances Akbar with the story of three Italian friends (including Machiavelli because, you know, it’s Salman Rushdie, and why not?), and the parts they played in the tale of the stranger’s purported mother, the “hidden princess” Qara Koz.

There are so many reasons that I loved this book.  One is that I love Salman Rushdie.  I read Midnight’s Children out of a sense of obligation, and I was surprised at how fun and playful it was, even when it was dark.  Salman Rushdie and his love affair with words make me smile, because although I am not brilliant with them like he is, I too have great love for The Words.  Like this, talking about the Florentine stranger:

Indeed, he turned out to be quite the conjurer.  He transformed gold coins into smoke and yellow smoke back into gold.  A jug of resh water flipped upside down released a flood of silken scarves.  He multiplied fishes and loaves with a couple of passes of his elegant hand, which was blasphemous, of course, but the hungry sailors easily forgave him.  Crossing themselves hastily, to insure themselves against the possible wrath of Christ Jesus regarding the the usurpation of his position by this latter-day miracle worker, they gobbled up their unexpectedly lavish, if theologically unsound, lunch.

Then also, I love that what the book is really about is the power of stories.  The people in Florence and Sikri can be taken over by words, not just the mob but the rulers, taken over by the stories they tell each other about the main characters in the book.  She’s a patron saint, she’s a witch; he’s a great emperor, he’s incestuous – the stories make all the difference.  I like that.  I expect that if you were Salman Rushdie, and you had spent loads of years in hiding because of a story you had written, that would be a fairly inescapable theme for your books.  Actually, this stories thing, what story you believe and why, also gives rise to the only complaint I had with the book.  Spoilers ahead.

Akbar’s problem throughout the story is that the stranger’s timing is all wrong.  He couldn’t be Akbar’s uncle and be the age that he is, and at the end of the tale the stranger tells him that his mother, the beautiful Qara Koz, found a way to stop time in herself, so that she didn’t age the way others did.  Akbar’s trust in the stranger is broken.  He tells him no, that isn’t what happened, that’s impossible, he can’t believe it.  He tells him that Qara Koz had a daughter, and died, and the daughter then slept with her own father to produce the stranger, and that’s what happened, and he makes him leave the kingdom, for lying and being the product of incest.  And the stranger keeps saying, no, she stopped time; and I liked it all vague.  I wanted it to stay vague.  But then at the end Qara Koz shows up, brought into being by the telling of the story and the belief in the story, and tells the emperor what really happened.  Boo.  I liked it vague.  The book’s about the power of believing in the story you believe in!  It would have been more better if we had gotten to decide ourselves, like Life of Pi.

However, I am not the boss of Salman Rushdie, and apart from that, which all happened in the last ten pages or so, The Enchantress of Florence was lovely and fun and gorgeously written, my favorite of his since The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

(Oh, yes, and also, can I just say, and this has bugged me for a while even though I do like Salman Rushdie a lot – what is with the women in his books?  Salman Rushdie’s women are always there sort of for men in a way that the men aren’t for women, and I’m tired of it.  Write a more interesting woman once in a while!  We are very interesting!)

Other thoughts: S. Krishna’s Books, Asylum, Adventures in Reading, Shelf Love, Eve’s Alexandria, Books for Breakfast, Both Eyes Book Blog

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13 thoughts on “The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie

  1. Um, should I feel stupid? ==>”Akbar the Great (heehee, get it?)”
    no, I don’t.
    But I also got bored with Midnight’s Children and think of Rushdie as work, so maybe he’s just not my style.
    or, it’s ok if I’m just not smart enough. 🙂

    • Hahaha, no, you shouldn’t feel stupid at all! It was a silly Arabic joke, and Rushdie mentions it in the book. I took two years of Arabic but didn’t learn much so I feel super clever when I know an Arabic word. “Akbar” means “the greatest” – part of the call to prayer for Muslims is “Allahu Akbar,” which means “God is the greatest”. So to say Akbar the Great is silly because “Akbar” already means he’s great.

      I’ve heard a lot of people say that Rushdie is work, and with some of his books I feel that way too. I think if you’re not enjoying his lush descriptions and the wordplay and everything, then you’d really be slogging through his books. I like it and find it funny, but I totally understand how a lot of people don’t. And for me it sometimes gets to be a little much too. (But not in this book, this book was fun.)

  2. Ooo so that’s the joke! I see. I didn’t read too far when you put in spoilers, but I’m definitely interested in reading Salmon Rushdie. Which one would you recommend I start with first? (Midnight’s Children or The Enchantress of Florence?)

    • Hm. Well, I think The Enchantress of Florence is more accessible. Midnight’s Children is the better book according to the Booker Prize people. 😛 Actually, my favorite one is The Ground Beneath Her Feet – it’s a loose retelling of the Orpheus myth. The Satanic Verses is very good too.

      That wasn’t very helpful. Okay, my official recommendation to you is, start with The Enchantress of Florence. It is friendly and amusing and nice.

  3. Which is odd since I usually love word play! It didn’t help that my paperback copy of Midnight’s Children is old, yellowed and TINY TINY print! which annoys me – that and I just abhor long books. HOWEVER. that said, I’m loving Irving – long book, right? I think he is an amazing writer. I know people who just can’t get past the first page of Owen Meany?! go figure.
    Maybe SOMEDAY I’ll try a different Rushdie book, like this one. Thx for explaining the Akbar!

    • I sometimes get tired with long books too – I don’t necessarily steer clear of them forever, but I do give up more easily with a long book than a shorter one. Try The Enchantress of Florence – it’s a good bit shorter, and (for me) the story moved along at a faster clip. This apparently means it is Not Booker Prize Material. Oh well!

  4. His love affair with words – so well put. I love that about him too. I skipped the spoilers section since I haven’t read this yet (or The Ground Beneath Her Feet). Clearly I must!

    Have you read Haroun and the Sea of Stories? Barely anyone even mentions it, possibly because it’s For Kids, but it’s one of my favourites of his. And it’s also about stories and why they matter and all that 😀

    • I loved Haroun & the Sea of Stories! I believe I read it in between Fury and Shame, neither of which I cared for much, and I was so pleased by it. I wouldn’t mind if Rushdie wrote some more kids’ books. I keep meaning to get Shalimar the Clown from the library too, as I haven’t read it, and of course I’m saving The Moor’s Last Sigh for a rainy day.

  5. love his writing! his descriptions are so vivid, it’s almost like watching a movie 🙂 i just posted about him on my blog too (http://infloox.wordpress.com/) after i came across a really inspiring set of video clips of him being interviewed at Emory University. Have a look!

    • I love the clip you posted! What he says about Shakespeare is so true, and certainly true of Rushdie’s books – that blending of genres all in one work. (Hamlet isn’t my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, but Shakespeare does that in loads of his plays.)

  6. Pingback: Wrapping up 2009 « Jenny's Books

  7. I just complete The Enchantress of Florence a few days ago-I loved it for the lushness of the prose more than anything else-It was my first Rusdie, I will read more in 2010 for sure-nice post

    • I love his prose too! Can I recommend The Ground Beneath Her Feet? It’s my favorite one of his; it’s a retelling of the Orpheus myth and it’s just fantastic.

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