Blending ornate imagery with knowing, saber-swift wit to conjure up cunning escapes, dashing victories and legendary seductions…beyond its magical razzle-dazzle lays a work of steely contemporary relevance.
Listeners who can make sense out of this clear but unengaging readingshould win an award. Firdous Bamji employs the same technique throughout (pushing out chosen words in each phrase for emphasis), and the sentences begin to sound alike and the listening mind begins to wanders. It's hard to distinguish or care about the many characters, and Bamji doesn't help determine time or place as the book hops around in different eras and locations with abandon. But poor Bamji had a terrible task before him: the muddle of history, mystery, fact, fiction and fairytale in Rushdie's new novel would confound any narrator. A Random House hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 24). (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
For Rushdie, the pen is a magician’s wand…If The Enchantress of Florence doesn’t win this year’s Man Booker I’ll curry my proof copy and eat it.
This brilliant, fascinating, generous novel swarms with gorgeous young women both historical and imagined, beautiful queens and irresistible enchantresses... ...[a] sumptuous, impetuous mixture of history with fable. But in the end, of course, it is the hand of the master artist, past all explanation, that gives this book its glamour and power, its humour and shock, its verve, its glory. It is a wonderful tale, full of follies and enchantments. East meets west with a clash of cymbals and a burst of fireworks. We English-speakers have our own Ariosto now, our Tasso, stolen out of India. Aren't we the lucky ones?
Ursula K Le Guin
[A] prodigious fever dream of a book…A beguiling, incandescent tale of travel, treachery, and transformation set in the Renaissance Florence of Machiavelli and the Medicis and in India's Mughal Empire....While Mogor's risky quest and fate are central...Rushdie ushers in a caravan of low, laughable characters in the service of his weighty and witty observations on religion, politics, sex, war, art, philosophy, and science in an East-West world of white mischief and black magic, of enigmatic nightmares and inscrutable dreams.
[A] splendid farrago...An all-dancing, colourful performance leaping up from the pages.
Rushdie, like an inspired fabulist, achieves the impossible by turning the tale of two cities into a narrative of perpetual reinvention. An exuberant celebration of storytelling…a story that enchants the reader and enriches the art of the novel.
The Daily Mail
An exuberant mix of fantasy and history.
Entertainment of the highest literary order. (Starred, boxed review)
Much like Rushdie himself, the mysterious yellow-haired stranger we meet in the opening pages of this magical and haunting new novel is a teller of tales, "driven out of his door by stories of wonder." This young man, straddling the worlds of 16th-century Florence and Mughal India much as he stands astride a bullock cart and enters the emperor's domain in Sikri, is driven to this new land with a story that can either make him his fortune or cost him his life. Appearing before the Emperor Akbar, the young man presents himself as an emissary of Queen Elizabeth I. When Akbar challenges his identity, the storyteller begins to weave the dangerous tale of Qara Köz, the enchantress of Florence, whom he claims is his mother. Parading through this tale of two worlds are Niccolò Machiavelli and Amerigo Vespucci's cousin, Ago. Köz's power, like the power of many beautiful women in Rushdie's novels, is often realized through her relationships with the men in her life, so her story often becomes one-dimensional. Nevertheless, Rushdie's lushly evocative creation of the mysteries and intrigues of a medieval world and his enchanting and seductive stories captivate and transport us in ways reminiscent of his early novels like Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses. Highly recommended.
Readers who succumb to the spell of Rushdie's convoluted, cross-continental fable may find it enchanting; those with less patience could consider it interminable. This is a very different sort of novel for Rushdie (Shalimar the Clown, 2005, etc.), partly based in Renaissance Italy and intensely researched (there are pages of entries listed in its bibliography), though themes of East and West, love and betrayal, religion and unbelief, sex and sex, are familiar from previous work. It's plain that the author worked hard on this deliriously ambitious book, and so must the reader. Despite the title, there is more than one enchantress of Florence, and other key characters have multiple names and perhaps identities as well. Some characters might even be imaginary. The plot commences with the arrival of a blonde-haired vagabond who has traveled from his native Florence to deliver a message from the Queen of England to "the emperor Abdul-Fath Jalaluddin Muhammad . . . known since his childhood as Akbar, meaning ‘the great,' and latterly, in spite of the tautology of it, as Akbar the Great, the great great one, great in his greatness, doubly great, so great that the repetition in his title was not only appropriate but necessary in order to express the gloriousness of his glory." And so on. The man from the Christian West and the emperor of the Muslim East develop a strong bond, mainly through the stories spun by the former (in which he assumes multiple names and identities) to the latter. Yet at one point, even Akbar issues "[a] curse on all storytellers," telling his visitor "You're taking too long. . .You can't draw this out forever..." Machiavelli and Medicis make their appearances, as the plotshifts to the impossibly beautiful seductress of the title, who also finds her way from Italy to the emperor, and who ultimately gives clues to her identity by explaining, "The Mirror's daughter was the mirror of her mother and of the woman whose mirror the Mirror had been."Rapturously poetic in places, very funny in others, yet the novel ultimately challenges both patience and comprehension.
From the Publisher
“A romance of beauty and power from Italy to India . . . so delightful an homage to Renaissance magic and wonder.”
–Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World
“This is ‘history’ jubilantly mixed with postmodernist magic realism.”
–Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books
“A baroque whirlwind of a narrative . . . [Rushdie helps] us escape from the present into a dreamlike past that ultimately makes us more aware of the dangers and illusions of our everyday lives.”
–Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune
“Brilliant . . . Rushdie’s sumptuous mixture of history and fable is magnificent.”
–Ursula K. Le Guin, The Guardian (London)
“For Rushdie, as for the artists he writes about, the pen is a magician’s wand. . . . One of his best [novels].”
–John Sutherland, Financial Times
“[A] prodigious fever dream of a book.”
–Lisa Shea, Elle
“Beyond its magical razzle-dazzle lays a work of steely contemporary resonance, rich in slyly metafictional allusions.”
–Hephzibah Anderson, Bloomberg News
Read an Excerpt The Enchantress of Florence
By Salman Rushdie Random House
Copyright © 2008 Salman Rushdie
All right reserved.
In the day’s last light the glowing lake
In the day’s last light the glowing lake below the -palace-city looked like a sea of molten gold. A traveler coming this way at sunset —this traveler, coming this way, now, along the lakeshore road—might believe himself to be approaching the throne of a monarch so fabulously wealthy that he could allow a portion of his treasure to be poured into a giant hollow in the earth to dazzle and awe his guests. And as big as the lake of gold was, it must be only a drop drawn from the sea of the larger fortune—the traveler’s imagination could not begin to grasp the size of that -mother--ocean! Nor were there guards at the golden water’s edge; was the king so generous, then, that he allowed all his subjects, and perhaps even strangers and visitors like the traveler himself, without hindrance to draw up liquid bounty from the lake? That would indeed be a prince among men, a veritable Prester John, whose lost kingdom of song and fable contained impossible wonders. Perhaps (the traveler surmised) the fountain of eternal youth lay within the city walls—perhaps even the legendary doorway to Paradise on Earth was somewhere close at hand? But then the sun fell below the horizon, the gold sank beneath the water’s surface, and waslost. Mermaids and serpents would guard it until the return of daylight. Until then, water itself would be the only treasure on offer, a gift the thirsty traveler gratefully accepted.
The stranger rode in a -bullock--cart, but instead of being seated on the rough cushions therein he stood up like a god, holding on to the rail of the cart’s latticework wooden frame with one insouciant hand. A -bullock--cart ride was far from smooth, the -two--wheeled cart tossing and jerking to the rhythm of the animal’s hoofs, and subject, too, to the vagaries of the highway beneath its wheels. A standing man might easily fall and break his neck. Nevertheless the traveler stood, looking careless and content. The driver had long ago given up shouting at him, at first taking the foreigner for a fool—if he wanted to die on the road, let him do so, for no man in this country would be sorry! Quickly, however, the driver’s scorn had given way to a grudging admiration. The man might indeed be foolish, one could go so far as to say that he had a fool’s overly pretty face and wore a fool’s unsuitable clothes—a coat of colored leather lozenges, in such heat!—but his balance was immaculate, to be wondered at. The bullock plodded forward, the cart’s wheels hit potholes and rocks, yet the standing man barely swayed, and managed, somehow, to be graceful. A graceful fool, the driver thought, or perhaps no fool at all. Perhaps someone to be reckoned with. If he had a fault, it was that of ostentation, of seeking to be not only himself but a performance of himself as well, and, the driver thought, around here everybody is a little bit that way too, so maybe this man is not so foreign to us after all. When the passenger mentioned his thirst the driver found himself going to the water’s edge to fetch the fellow a drink in a cup made of a hollowed and varnished gourd, and holding it up for the stranger to take, for all the world as if he were an aristocrat worthy of service.
"You just stand there like a grandee and I jump and scurry at your bidding," the driver said, frowning. "I don’t know why I’m treating you so well. Who gave you the right to command me? What are you, anyway? Not a nobleman, that’s for sure, or you wouldn’t be in this cart. And yet you have airs about you. So you’re probably some kind of a rogue." The other drank deeply from the gourd. The water ran down from the edges of his mouth and hung on his shaven chin like a liquid beard. At length he handed back the empty gourd, gave a sigh of satisfaction, and wiped the beard away. "What am I?" he said, as if speaking to himself, but using the driver’s own language. "I’m a man with a secret, that’s what—a secret which only the emperor’s ears may hear." The driver felt reassured: the fellow was a fool after all. There was no need to treat him with respect. "Keep your secret," he said. "Secrets are for children, and spies." The stranger got down from the cart outside the caravanserai, where all journeys ended and began. He was surprisingly tall and carried a carpetbag. "And for sorcerers," he told the driver of the bullock--cart. "And for lovers too. And kings."
In the caravanserai all was bustle and hum. Animals were cared for, horses, camels, bullocks, asses, goats, while other, untamable animals ran wild: screechy monkeys, dogs that were no man’s pets. Shrieking parrots exploded like green fireworks in the sky. Blacksmiths were at work, and carpenters, and in chandleries on all four sides of the enormous square men planned their journeys, stocking up on groceries, candles, oil, soap, and ropes. Turbaned coolies in red shirts and dhotis ran ceaselessly hither and yon with bundles of improbable size and weight upon their heads. There was, in general, much loading and unloading of goods. Beds for the night were to be cheaply had here, -wood--frame rope beds covered with spiky horsehair mattresses, standing in military ranks upon the roofs of the -single--story buildings surrounding the enormous courtyard of the caravanserai, beds where a man might lie and look up at the heavens and imagine himself divine. Beyond, to the west, lay the murmuring camps of the emperor’s regiments, lately returned from the wars. The army was not permitted to enter the zone of the palaces but had to stay here at the foot of the royal hill. An unemployed army, recently home from battle, was to be treated with caution. The stranger thought of ancient Rome. An emperor trusted no soldiers except his praetorian guard. The traveler knew that the question of trust was one he would have to answer convincingly. If he did not he would quickly die.
Not far from the caravanserai, a tower studded with elephant tusks marked the way to the palace gate. All elephants belonged to the emperor, and by spiking a tower with their teeth he was demonstrating his power. Beware! the tower said. You are entering the realm of the Elephant King, a sovereign so rich in pachyderms that he can waste the gnashers of a thousand of the beasts just to decorate me. In the tower’s display of might the traveler recognized the same quality of flamboyance that burned upon his own forehead like a flame, or a mark of the Devil; but the maker of the tower had transformed into strength that quality which, in the traveler, was often seen as a weakness. Is power the only justification for an extrovert personality? the traveler asked himself, and could not answer, but found himself hoping that beauty might be another such excuse, for he was certainly beautiful, and knew that his looks had a power of their own.
Beyond the tower of the teeth stood a great well and above it a mass of incomprehensibly complex waterworks machinery that served the - many--cupolaed palace on the hill. Without water we are nothing, the traveler thought. Even an emperor, denied water, would swiftly turn to dust. Water is the real monarch and we are all its slaves. Once at home in Florence he had met a man who could make water disappear. The conjuror filled a jug to the brim, muttered magic words, turned the jug over and, instead of liquid, fabric spilled forth, a torrent of colored silken scarves. It was a trick, of course, and before that day was done he, the traveler, had coaxed the fellow’s secret out of him, and had hidden it among his own mysteries. He was a man of many secrets, but only one was fit for a king.
The road to the city wall rose quickly up the hillside and as he rose with it he saw the size of the place at which he had arrived. Plainly it was one of the grand cities of the world, larger, it seemed to his eye, than Florence or Venice or Rome, larger than any town the traveler had ever seen. He had visited London once; it too was a lesser metropolis than this. As the light failed the city seemed to grow. Dense neighborhoods huddled outside the walls, muezzins called from their minarets, and in the distance he could see the lights of large estates. Fires began to burn in the twilight, like warnings. From the black bowl of the sky came the answering fires of the stars. As if the earth and the heavens were armies preparing for battle, he thought. As if their encampments lie quiet at night and await the war of the day to come. And in all these warrens of streets and in all those houses of the mighty, beyond, on the plains, there was not one man who had heard his name, not one who would readily believe the tale he had to tell. Yet he had to tell it. He had crossed the world to do so, and he would.
He walked with long strides and attracted many curious glances, on account of his yellow hair as well as his height, his long and admittedly dirty yellow hair flowing down around his face like the golden water of the lake. The path sloped upward past the tower of the teeth toward a stone gate upon which two elephants in -bas-- relief stood facing each other. Through this gate, which was open, came the noises of human beings at play, eating, drinking, carousing. There were soldiers on duty at the Hatyapul gate but their stances were relaxed. The real barriers lay ahead. This was a public place, a place for meetings, purchases, and pleasure. Men hurried past the traveler, driven by hungers and thirsts. On both sides of the flagstoned road between the outer gate and the inner were hostelries, saloons, food stalls, and hawkers of all kinds. Here was the eternal business of buying and being bought. Cloths, utensils, baubles, weapons, rum. The main market lay beyond the city’s lesser, southern gate. City dwellers shopped there and avoided this place, which was for ignorant newcomers who did not know the real price of things. This was the swindlers’ market, the thieves’ market, raucous, overpriced, contemptible. But tired travelers, not knowing the plan of the city, and reluctant, in any case, to walk all the way around the outer walls to the larger, fairer bazaar, had little option but to deal with the merchants by the elephant gate. Their needs were urgent and simple.
Live chickens, noisy with fear, hung upside down, fluttering, their feet tied together, awaiting the pot. For vegetarians there were other, more silent -cook--pots; vegetables did not scream. And were those women’s voices the traveler could hear on the wind, ululating, teasing, enticing, laughing at unseen men? Were those women he scented upon the evening breeze? It was too late to go looking for the emperor tonight, in any case. The traveler had money in his pocket and had made a long, roundabout journey. This way was his way: to move toward his goal indirectly, with many detours and divagations. Since landing at Surat he had traveled by way of Burhanpur, Handia, Sironj, Narwar, Gwalior, and Dholpur to Agra, and from Agra to this, the new capital. Now he wanted the most comfortable bed that could be had, and a woman, preferably one without a mustache, and finally a quantity of the oblivion, the escape from self, that can never be found in a woman’s arms but only in good strong drink.
Later, when his desires had been satisfied, he slept in an odorous whorehouse, snoring lustily next to an insomniac tart, and dreamed. He could dream in seven languages: Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Persian, Russian, English, and Portuguese. He had picked up languages the way most sailors picked up diseases; languages were his gonorrhea, his syphilis, his scurvy, his ague, his plague. As soon as he fell asleep half the world started babbling in his brain, telling wondrous travelers’ tales. In this -half--discovered world every day brought news of fresh enchantments. The visionary, revelatory -dream--poetry of the quotidian had not yet been crushed by blinkered, prosy fact. Himself a teller of tales, he had been driven out of his door by stories of wonder, and by one in particular, a story which could make his fortune or else cost him his life.
Excerpted from The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie Copyright © 2008 by Salman Rushdie. Excerpted by permission.
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