The Enchantress of Florence
The thing about being part of a book club is that there are times you end up reading books you never thought you'd read. In this brief confession, I'll admit I would not have picked up any Salman Rushdie book on my own. Anyone who writes something called The Satanic Verses is not high on my preferred reading list. Fortunately, I didn't let my personal feelings interfere when I started reading The Enchantress of Florence.
Great book? Not in my opinion. Interesting book? Yes indeed. For everybody? No.
Mogor dell'Amore is a blonde European man who travels to the Mughal empire in the late 17th century. He is a con artist and a tale spinner. His charm is alluring to both men and women. He is able to get an audience with Emperor Akbar, lord of the Mughal empire, and makes an outrageous claim. He begins to tell his story. "In the beginning there were three friends - Antonino Argalia, Niccolo 'il Machia,' and Ago Vespucci." He tells a tale so fantastic that all of the royal court gets pulled into the net.
Rushdie spins three entwining tales into The Enchantress of Florence. There is the story of the Hidden Princess Qara Koz, Akbar's aunt, who left the Mughul nation before she was 20. Her great beauty won her many prizes except the return to her home. There is the recounting of the three young Italian boys, Antonino, Argalia, 'il Machia' (Machiavelli), and Vespucci. And there are the incidents occurring in Mughal while dell'Amore is there. Rushie is able to contrast and compare the Eastern against Western cultures against the historical backdrop of a flamboyant Eastern court.
Akbar is savvy enough to know that dell'Amore may be a complete con man only out to steal from him. Yet there are some proofs that the Hidden Princess really existed. As the yellow haired young Italian remains and continues tale-spinning, Akbar gets more trusting. Akbar is also very aware that his three young teen aged sons are each plotting against him as well so any one of them may take over the Mughal throne.
The Enchantress of Florence shows the political climate of plots within plots within secrets. Although dell'Amore claims no political leanings, he reads a letter from Queen Elizabeth I to Akbar that is flowery and flattering, causing Akbar to be smitten with the distant English queen. It is only many years later Akbar learns the intent of the letter was the same, but the flowery wording was missing when someone else read the letter. Another time Akbar is experimenting with thinking of himself in the singular "I" rather than the royal "we". Although these are small scenes, it is this type of part of the whole that makes this book readable and enjoyable. Rushie uses these quick incidents to bring the book to life.
This is also a crass book. Rushdie writes to shock as well as to expand his point of the book. The language goes over the top at times - usually in character's language as if they have no better way to express themselves. There are sexual and violence scenes throughout the book that may offend some readers. The incidents may be part of the glue of the story but are more graphic than is needed.
Will I read more of Rusdie's work? I don't know. But now, at least, I will consider it. I won't just push aside his work offhand. The Enchantress of Florence is a multi-layered book that will keep your attention.
Notice: Graphic violence, Strong indecent language, Strong sexual content
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These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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