Feb 22, 2010

The Enchantress of Florence

Salman Rushdie

This book is like a tempestuous love affair.
It's challenging for somebody who isn't used to Rushdie's mystic style but once you tap it, it's like entering a fantasy land filled with delightful surprises at every step.
A majestic read, set in the historic era of the Mughals of Akbar and Florence of Lorenzo de' Medici , Rushdie weaves an intricate tale around these times and their offspring.

The story begins with the arrival of an exotic and mysterious visitor to Sikri - Mogor dell'Amore (Mughal of Love) - who claims to be in the possession of a secret of biblical proportions. He reaches the royal court with the help of Skeleton, a prolific prostitute. Afer much historical by-play it is revealed that the mysterious Florentine is Akbar's great uncle.

Enormous uproar ensues and it is here that Akbar's character gains an even more layered complexity. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes petulant and most of the time passionate; Akbar is a man lost between imagination and questions. The flickering Jodha and Qara Koz (the enchantress of Florence) grip him alternately and lead him down the by lanes of Renaissance history. A world of Ottomans and Machiavelli, of Amerigo Vespucci and Vlad Dracula and of Genghis Khan and Medicis. 

In reality, the title of this book is a smoke screen. The book has little to do with Qara Koz. It has more to do with the comparisons drawn by Akbar and Machiavelli between their respective domains. Of their anguish which has no outlet, and their doubts which can only be answered by themselves. Rushdie has tried to evolve a theme through them. He has dared to make them question religion and boundaries, almost willing us to question ourselves and leave us wondering. 

As Rushdie picks his way through the chess-board of medievalist times he touches upon many threads. He flits on to art and dreams, seduction and longing, families and fate, destiny and defeat, kings and armies, friends and power, riches and rational thought. Its as if he envelopes a short medieval history of nearly everything.   

This novel is like a perpetual dream which doesn't end properly. Fragments are left niggling in the corner of your mind long after you've put the book down. Connections which you keep trying to make, ideas you suddenly grasp. It's like a whiff of something divine, this masterpiece. 

5/5. Yes, at the risk of sounding like an infatuated teenager, you must read it.

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