The Enchantress of Florence
“Of the vindictiveness of princes, there is no end“
How very Sheherezada-like of you, Mr. Rushdie! The Enchantress…charters territories thus (i was gonna say uncharted 😀 ) unknown in the literary world of Mr. Rushdie, and it does so with grace, elegance, beauty, intricacy…and very little magic. Set in a time where magic should be more alive than it is now (that’s the Ottoman Empire, India, a bit of Persia and Florence in the Middle Ages – around 1500) the book fails to capture the same feel and yes, the same magic, found in his previous work. That is not to say Mr. Rushdie had lost his touch – not at all – it just seems a bit misguided, this novel. A lot of research has been done, a lot of effort and sweat was put into it – and I think it was to compensate for, perhaps, a temporary lack of inspiration. His phrasing is as heavily wonderful as ever, his universe as exotic, his characters as colorful…and yet…and yet….I miss that spark. It it pains me to say this, but I expected a bit more. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did, I enjoyed it a lot – it’s just that my expectations from Mr. Rushdie are perhaps higher than from any other – so that might be my fault there 😀 But I don’t want to be unjust – for the last 100 pages or so, I did feel that rush coming over me, and I did start to care more what happens, and all because the spark was back 😉
The “enchantress” in that title is a woman of noble breeding, a Mughal princess, sister of the emperor Babur, great aunt of Akbar the Great (all very real historical figures) that went by the name of Qara Koz (Lady Black Eyes) and who, when taken as spoil of war by a Persian Shah, chooses to exert her magic to the purpose of gaining higher ranks and importance. She is on the side of the victor – when the Persian Shah is defeated and she is given the chance to return home, she chooses to stay with the conqueror, when he, in turn, is vanquished and abandons her on the battlefield, she will meet Argalia the Turk, an Ottoman warrior of Florentine origins – and follow him to his home town. If this seems complicated, well, this is just a story within a story, because the “present time” in the book is the time of Akbar the Great, where a stranger wearing a multicolored coat claims his descending from Qara Koz and thus his relation to the emperor himself. The story of lady Black eyes is told in parallel with the story of the Argalia, the boy orphaned at 10 who left his 2 best friends, following his dream to conquer the world (or at least some part of it). And there’s more, because we learn the life stories of these friends – Niccolo ‘il Macchia’ Macchiavelli and Ago Vespucci (cousin of Amerigo) and we’re taken on a whirlwind tour of the world that ends in the New World – America.
It’s hard choose a narrative thread – there’s so many, and they’re all entwined and tied together, that if you get into one, you will eventually get into all. So the best thing I can do is say “read the book”; despite it not being Mr. Rushdie’s best, it’s still worth checking out, since a world populated with made-up beings who live amongst real ones, a world of coincidences, of imagination, of ghosts and enchantments is always worth checking out, and I really didn’t do it justice.
Added bonus – Vlad the Devil (Vlad Tepes) and his abnormal cruelty is mentioned in a couple of paragraphs: “Against Vlad III, the viovode of Wallachia – Vlad Dracula, the dragon-devil, the Impaler Prince – no ordinary power could have prevailed. It had begun to be said of Prince Vlad that he drank the blood of his impaled victims as they writhed in their death throes, upon their stakes and that drinking the living blood of men and women gave him strange powers over death.” Eh, is this not good? 😛
And that’s that – except the better (and contradictory, might I add 😀 ) reviews by NYTimes, The Guardian and the New York Review of Books (hmm, the reviewer for this one is JC Oates) that I figured I should leave you with 😉