Friday, April 2, 2010

The Enchantress of Florence - Salman Rushdie

Rating: 3/10

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!


Whitney said...

That quote is beautiful, but it's a bummer that the storyline wasn't on the same par.

Kals said...

I know. If I had to judge Rushdie only on the basis of his writing and quotability, he'd get a complete 10. But the plot was too weird for my taste.

This post has another wonderful quote from this same book:

Kim said...

I like your honesty, your analogy of the fog-filled hallway, and your new (to me) header picture. :)

Vaishnavi said...

Rushide really knows how to write things our of scale doesn't he?? Maybe that's what makes his writing so magnificent but like you said, the plot failed to grip me either. I have never stopped reading a book half way through before The Enchantress of Florence, I had to return this one because of a hefty fine but I need to finish it though! Your review is very good and so is the analogy you have given in the beginning. But still you have to admire the eccentricity of the man and the writer isn't it? Akbar and Machiavelli in the same book :) But I felt that he portrayed Akbar himself as a bit vain and silly but I loved his passages containing Jodhaa.

Vaishnavi said...

Sorry for the typo, I meant to write out of scale*

Kals said...

TheBookMole - I haven't read much historical fiction from the Mughal era. Non-fiction has been my choice. But I've heard Indu Sundaresan's books, like The Twentieth Wife, set in the Mughal period are very good and I'd like to check them out! Perhaps you'd like to give them a try too :)

Kim - Thanks! :) I love the new header too. Refreshing change, I hope :)

Vaishnavi - I know! I had to keep myself going to finish the book. I had the motivation because this is a book we chose for our book club. But there were times when I just wanted to stop reading. Jodhaa was very good! You can see Rushdie had fun writing so many of these passages. He is a lovely writer indeed. But this plot was too confusing for my taste :)

The Book Mole said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Kals - I would love to try a new author. Sorry for the double post, I was having trouble with blogger yesterday.

Kals said...

No problem :) I had dozens of error codes from blogger yesterday too!

Anonymous said...

I am feeling the same way about this book :(.

I started with high expectations but I am just not able to finisht he book at all. And I normally love Rushdie

WhiteMoonWatching said...

I've met a lot of readers who have the very same trouble with reading Rushdie. His use of obsolete language doesn't help.
I, however, have finished The Enchantress not once, but twice and for me, the last line of the book was worth all the trash I've read in the past 2 decades and put up with in order to get to this book.
Rushdie's strong point is Magic Realism, not Historical fiction, so you may have to change your perspective or your expectations before you start reading.
This one in particular is one of the most beautiful of journeys with what i thought was a perfect ending. Not all stories are solid rock, defined, unyielding. I tend to fall in love with the more malleable sort. The Enchantress is a story that became my own the minute I touched it. I hope everyone else may be just as lucky.


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