Rushdie's 'Enchantress' Conjures Fanciful Voyage
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Salman Rushdie's new novel, The Enchantress of Florence, has been hailed by critics as a novel of glamour and power. It's a lush Renaissance imagining of that dreamlike city so beloved by novelists, but it's also a story about East and West.
The many-tiered narrative spins around the world, following a roguish Florentine traveler to the 16th century Mughal court of Akbar the Great and a gorgeous, black-eyed princess. A possible descendent of Kubla Khan, she seems to exist solely to steal men's hearts. Rushdie's shimmering — and occasionally precious — characters range from a spying eunuch to a clutch of giant albino Swiss mercenaries to real-life contemporary figures, including Machiavelli, Botticelli and Vlad the Impaler.
But The Enchantress of Florence is perhaps most of all a novel about women and the men who live with them, lust for them and define themselves by their fantasies about them. In a rave review in The Guardian, author Ursula K. Le Guin wrote that the book exists in "the land of story: ... the child's world, the ancestral, pre-scientific world, where we are all emperors or enchantresses, making up the rules as we go along."
Other reviews have found The Enchantress of Florence a lesser masterpiece, at least when compared to such earlier Rushdie novels as The Moor's Last Sigh, Midnight's Children or The Satanic Verses, that dazzlingly dark romp that incited a murderous edict from the Ayatollah Khomeini. Threats against Rushdie appear to have receded, and the author has since enjoyed accolades, including a British knighthood and a 2008 award, selected through an online poll, honoring Midnight's Children as the very best of all books that have won the prestigious Booker Prize.