Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Enchantress Of Florence by Salman Rushdie



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: Qara Köz, 'Lady Black Eyes', a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, who becomes the lover of a certain Argalia, a Florentine soldier of fortune. When Argalia returns home with his Mughal mistress the city is mesmerized by her presence, as two worlds are brought together by one woman attempting to command her own destiny...

But is Mogor's story true? And if so, then what happened to the lost princess?
Amazon description

Review

I have not read very much Rushdie and I was not sure what I would make of this book. Going by the reviews it seems to divide opinion, but I loved it.

The book is like an incredible tapestry, rich in imagery, history (it comes with a long bibliography), descriptions, themes and characters. Although a work of historical fiction, as Rushdie has said: "non-historians think of history as being a collection of facts, whereas actually it's not -- it's a collection of theories about the past. We revise our view of the past all the time, depending on our own present concerns."  
As rationalist westerners we see history through our realism focused eyes. But the worlds that Rushdie draws - the Mughal court and Renaissance Florence - believed in magic, enchantment and religion. It is therefore only right that a book set in such a world should share those belief structures. Accurate historical fiction is magic realism and that is what Rushdie writes brilliantly, for example the Great Mughal, Akbar, has a fantasy wife, who exists not only in the mind of Akbar but also on Rushdie's pages as an independent character.

Of all the characters the best drawn is Akbar, who is a mass of contradictions, a bloody tyrant who meditates on the role of kingship, religion and identity. The yellow-haired Italian stranger is less well drawn with good reason because we are viewing him through Akbar's eyes and Akbar cannot tell whether the stranger's story is true or not and he and we never know. We are shown at the beginning of the book how ruthless the stranger can be in pursuing his own interests. Rushdie has been criticised by some readers as being anti-women in this book, defining women by their sexuality, as whores or sexual enchantresses. Although a feminist and a liker of strong women characters this aspect of the book did not bother me. Rushdie is accurately depicting the world of the Mughals and Renaissance Italy and the place of women in it. The enchantress of the title uses her sexual beauty and force of will to bind men to her. The book closes with her saying to Akbar, "And now, Shelter of the World, I am yours." And Akbar thinking "Until you're not, my Love. Until You're not" for the Enchantress had always moved on from one man to another as their power to protect her fails. The power of men is shown throughout the book to be fragile and short, even Akbar's great palace is brought to dust. Perhaps, one wonders, the only power that survives is that of the illusion of the perfect woman.



1 comment:

Flora Aridula said...

Great review! Got me really interested in reading this book :)