Title: The Enchantress of Florence
Author: Salman Rushdie
Publisher: Random House
Date: June 2008
First line: "In the day's last light the glowing lake below the palace-city looked like a sea of molten gold."
The Enchantress of Florence begins with a mysterious yellow-haired stranger standing astride a bullock cart as he enters the domain of the emperor of India. He is godlike in stance, yet in appearance he is as a fool with his overly pretty face and particolored coat. The city to which he arrives is one of the grand cities of the world in both scale and wealth. Even the nearby lake seems to be made of gold. This of course is just an illusion brought about by the setting of the sun, but is an appropriate introduction to the story since it will become difficult to separate the real from the imagined as the story progresses.
The yellow-haired man is a teller of stories and he has arrived to tell a story to the Mughal of India that will either bring him fortune or cost him his life. This young man has represented himself to the Emperor Akbar as an emissary of Queen Elizabeth I. The emperor challenges the stranger's identity and would dismiss him except the yellow-haired man, who calls himself first Uccello of Florence and then Mogor dell'Amore (mogul of love), begins to weave the enchanting story of Qara Koz, the enchantress of Florence, who he claims is his mother.
But what is the Emperor to make of the stranger's story? What are we to make of the story we are reading? Identities and reality are not always clear within this magical novel. Who is the story-telling stranger? Is Qara Koz really the stranger's mother? Even the Emperor is not sure if he is simply an "I" like everyone else or a "we" of divine royalty. Reality is tenuous. Characters are imagined yet given "space" and relationship. Painters disappear into their own paintings. The story-teller feels himself fading away to nothingness when kept from telling his story. Is he merely defined by his story and without it has no existence? To add to the tenuous atmosphere created by questions of identity and reality, women are sometimes mere echoes and mirrors of someone or something else. They whisper and murmur and are ghostlike as they glide behind curtains and veils.
The author has woven layers of story around his readers, and enchants and draws us into his creation. We would come back night after night, for 1001 nights, to hear the story he has to tell. He shows us that story has power ... the power to enthrall, the power to rend apart and the power to create.
The Enchantress of Florence is first and foremost a story. It is secondarily an affirmation of the power of story. I found that I had to let go and allow Rushdie to take me where he would in order to fully enjoy this work. My criticism is limited to passages that seemed unnecessary and clumsy (e.g. the potato witches) and I wonder if the author wasn't too anxious to use as much of his extensive research as possible. The appended bibliography of works consulted is quite impressive and I look forward to reading from that list in order to expand my understanding of those historical elements that went right over my head.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Advance Reader's Copy of The Enchantress of Florence graciously provided by Random House through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
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Also reviewed at:
Red Room Library (Sarah)