Wednesday, September 10, 2008

75. "The Enchantress of Florence" - Salman Rushdie

Rushdie has said that this is his best work, as well as his most researched novel. While the Man Booker folks disagree, this was the first Salman Rushdie novel that didn't feel like a forced-for-schoolwork read.

If you have the patience for long-winded narrative and descriptions of several different names and historical events, you will enjoy this fantasy/fairy tale. From Queen Elizabeth I (the Virgin Queen) to the de Medici family (whom I'd recently researched), the story blends the magical with the impossible. To fully enjoy the novel, however, you need to have some basic idea of the history of the time period (early to mid 1500s).

Akbar the Great is the leader of the East, emperor of the Mughal empire. One day, a long-haired blond man wearing a multi-colored leather coat approaches Akbar's city. He says he has a story to tell the emperor, and eventually his tale of the enchantress of Florence endears the man (who goes by several aliases, so I'll call him Mugar dell'Amore) to not only the emperor but the entire town as they wish to know the empress so completely as to bring her to life through memories.

It's a playful side of Rushdie's writing that I've not seen. He writes less about politics and more about religion and sex, which I found refreshing. Catching the end of an NPR interview, I heard the host call this "a book of two cities." I disagree - it's a book of two cultures who end up being quite alike. A positive note on the cusp of the United States presidential election.

3.5 out of 5.0 Blue Motorcycles.


Sandra said...

I enjoyed your review. I haven't read any of Rushdie's fiction yet, I suppose it's about time I do. I like his non-fiction very much though. There's an interesting quote about "The Enchantress of Florence" from "The International Herald Tribune" on my post about the Booker's.
"John Sutherland, who has twice been a judge for the Man Booker literary prize, wrote in The Financial Times that "if it (The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie) doesn't win this year's Man Booker I'll curry my proof copy and eat it."

Oh oh.

Stefania said...

Thanks Sandra for providing the right quote, I mentioned it in my blog.

Ahah, Jonathan Jones of The Guardian amusingly found out why Salman Rushdie didn't make the shortlist. Apparently, he messed up with polenta! This is going to be hilarious... So you know that Mr Rushdie is always trying to be funny in his novels... Well, in 'The Enchantress of Florence' he imagines young Niccolò Machiavelli and his friends improvising a song about polenta (!). Only polenta is made with maize, which is an American crop that was brought to Europe only after Columbus reached the Americas, and the scene is set in the early 1480s! This is just so funny: imagine Rushdie making up a song about polenta in Italian, which used to be a meal for poor people (somehow I don't think that Machiavelli would have eaten it).
Now I want to read the book just because of that stupid song!

Kristin Dodge said...

Ha! Sandra, I wonder if he actually does eat it... I have a couple curry recipes to help him out.

The polenta song is a silly sidenote in the story. It came about because Rushdie and Ian McEwan were drinking, and Rushdie started singing about a girl named Polenta:

"If she were a letter, I would have sent her,
If she were a house, I'd rent her,"

etc. I kept coming up with new ones after reading the postscript about that (because I could imagine drinking with Ian McEwan would be good times).

Funny, though, because one of the women saves her family from illness by covering them in a special polenta recipe... that must be what is the *real* historical error.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the detailed review of Rushdie's newest book! Too Shy to Stop writer Nehla just wrote a review too. You can read her review here.