Reading The Enchantress of Florence is a bit like walking through a beautiful hallway with intricate carvings, where the fog obstructs your view and makes you lose track of where and how to proceed. The writing is wonderful, very quotable, but the plot, at least to me, was too confusing and quirky to make an impact.
The premise is intriguing enough : A European traveller comes to the Grand Mughal Emperor Akbar, claiming to be the child of the Enchantress of Florence, Qara Köz , a lost Mughal princess who was the youngest sister of Akbar's grandfather Babar. Qara Köz undertook a grand journey of her life that climaxed in Florence. Akbar has to decide if this young man's astonishing story about his lineage is true or not. The consequences for either reason is bound to be severe.
Quite obviously, Salman Rushdie can write well. Oh yes. He can be witty, exquisitely sarcastic, descriptive and has done quite a bit of research for this book, evidenced from the intimidating 4-page Bibliography provided. And there are some quotes that I absolutely loved. Like this one:
He was Adam's heir, not Muhammad's or the Caliphs', Abul Fazal told him; his legitimacy and authority sprang from his descent from the First Man, the father of all men. No single faith could contain him, nor any geographical territory. Greater than the king of kings who ruled Persia before the Muslims came, superior to the ancient Hindu notion of the Chakravartin - the king whose chariot wheels could roll everywhere, whose movements could not be obstructed - he was the Universal Ruler, king of a world without frontiers or ideological limitations. What followed from this was that human nature, not divine will, was the great force that moved history. He, Akbar, the perfect man, was the engine of time.
But all the excellent quotes and writing were in vain, because the plot in this tale is so hazy and inconclusive that it failed to strike a chord with me.
I went in with a lot of expectations, especially because I love Indian history and I've read quite a bit about the Mughals, especially King Akbar. It was promising to start with: the descriptions of the gorgeous Mughal capital of Fatehpur Sikri and the people of that era captivated me. I could imagine Azeem O Shaan Shahenshah from the film JodhaaAkbar playing as the background to what I was reading!
But sadly, it went too wayward from then on. I found that when the story moved to Florence, it became irritating, awkward and mind-numbingly pointless at times. And none of the characters, perhaps excluding Akbar, were worth getting attached to. The Enchantress herself came across to me as weird, reclusive, moody and ultimately, unappealing: quite the opposite of what her title suggests.
The final few pages provided for an interesting end. But sadly, I had pretty much stopped caring about the story and the characters for it to get to me very much. I understand there are many people who liked the book, but for me it was a disappointing, weird story to read. Still, if you find the plot premise interesting enough, you could give it a try!