The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
I stumbled upon The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie as part of a recent raiding of my mother’s shelves. Despite having never read any of Rushdie’s work, I was vaguely aware that he was an Interesting Contemporary Person and decided to give The Enchantress a go. It seemed like the sort of thing one should read.
Wonderfully, despite the randomness of how I discovered the book and the compulsion I felt to read it, The Enchantress was anything but a chore. In fact, the book turned out to be one of the more interesting books I’ve read in quite some time. And I guess it is “interesting” in the same ways that Rushdie himself is: it’s neither conventional nor totally wacky; it’s somewhat foreign and mystical, but also deals with perfectly ordinary humanity; and there’s a lot that just remains completely mysterious.
The Enchantress leaps with utter grace and comfort from different times, places, and narrators to tell a number of different stories. The main one, however, has to do with a Western stranger who turns up at the court of Akbar the Great and proceeds to spin some tales, gain influence at court, and befriend the emperor himself. As it soon becomes clear, the stranger’s stories are actually far more relevant to the emperor and the royal family than the stranger initially let on.
Style aside (and this is an extremely stylish book), one of the things I found most fascinating about The Enchantress was Rushdie’s evident, thorough research and his choice of an unusual place and time. It is quite rare that you find a book taking place during the Renaissance (the European one, anyway) that is centered on the East geographically. The more I read, the more I realized that I did not have the first clue about what was going on outside of Europe during the Renaissance. And, despite this book being fiction, it admirably aimed to fill in that glaring hole in my education. In general, the more I turn around and look into random historical moments, I increasingly realize that there is so much history out there just waiting to be discovered and it is all so interesting! It was a delight to be handed even a sliver of what’s out there by The Enchantress.
Substance aside, the narrative pacing and the style of the novel were superb. As I mentioned, Rushdie jumps around a lot but he does it seamlessly and with utter comfort no matter where he’s jumping. He impressively keeps any number of mysteries alive until the very last pages of the book, even though this is not really a “mystery” per se. Instead, it is its own breed of novel that blends mystery with the fantastical, the Oriental, the historical, and a dash of the sentimental. It’s a beautiful, highly imaginative combination and one which I would highly recommend.