(All images photographed from the book’s dust jacket and pastedown)
(My Rating: 3/5)
In my opinion, to read a book by Salman Rushdie one really has to be in the mood to read a book by Salman Rushdie. This holds true especially for his fiction, not non-fiction. Happily for me, I was in just such a mood when I began reading (for the second book of my self-imposed 2016 Reading Challenge) The Enchantress of Florence.
Whenever I read Rushdie’s fiction, an image is created in my mind of him as a conductor of an orchestra comprising of fact, fiction, fantasy, abundant knowledge, extensive research and a humbling command of the English language. Picking and choosing these ‘instruments’ as he sees fit, he composes symphonies of magical, fantastical stories.
The Enchantress of Florence is a bold undertaking, in which Rushdie uses some of the greatest figures, as well as important historical events of the 15th and 16th centuries, to weave a story that connects them all, across continents.
Akbar the Great, Niccolo Machiavelli and Amerigo Vespucci’s cousin to name a few of Rushdie’s chosen characters are part of this fantastical tale, set mainly in India (Sikri) and Italy (Florence) with several other well known and not so well known actual historical figures and events making appearances.
I really enjoyed the first part of the book, which mainly revolves around Akbar and is set at the time when Fatehpur Sikri was at the height of its glory. Most of the second and third parts of the book were for me a bit tedious and involved too many historical intricacies, which I personally would have preferred in not so much detail. Perhaps somebody well versed or with a keen interest in 15th century European / Italian history may have enjoyed this part more. I also often found the writing at these parts of the book to be more of a ramble and a rant and quite confusing at times. However, the last 75 to 100 pages of the book captivated me again and the story and writing were once again most enjoyable. It’s almost like the book was written by two different people! So my rating was actually 4 for the parts I enjoyed and 2 for the parts I didn’t and hence the average of 3.
I liked the way Rushdie portrays the character of Akbar not only as a great warrior, leader and man of immense ambition and power but also simultaneously as one who examines his power, has moral dilemmas, quirks, weaknesses, fears and doubts. I mostly liked that he showed him as one who introspects.
If, like me, your knowledge of the historical events around which the story revolves is abysmal, you might, like me, find that Wikipedia is a helpful companion in navigating this book. And yes, please do make sure you are in a Salman-Rushdie-work-of-fiction-mood before you begin!