The Enchantress of Florence
Sir Salman Rushdie’s latest work of fiction, The Enchantress of Florence, is another sumptuous feat of storytelling. The author layers story upon story in a muddled palimpsest that meanders through time and jumps geographically so that the reader cannot completely follow the chronology of events or pin down the relationships between characters. It always feels like an accomplishment to finish a Rushdie novel, but the effort is well worth it.
The center of the universe in this novel is a woman named Qara Köz, the “hidden princess” of India in the Middle Ages. She is constantly choosing her own destiny in a world where men usually make the rules, and she uses the people around her to achieve her goals. Qara Köz is a woman capable of entrancing all who cross her path, all who see her, even those who only imagine her existence. Her magic is like a whirlpool, drawing in the men and women in her periphery and merely casting them aside when their purpose has been served if they are lucky; the unfortunate are destroyed.
Piece by piece, the princess’ story is revealed to her distant relative, King Akbar, who struggles with his place in history, wondering what will be come of his dynasty, and curious about the workings of the world as well as arrogant about his power to control it. Three Florentine childhood friends play key roles in the travels of the princess, and the descendant of one of them is the storyteller who enlightens the emperor in his capital city of Sikri. After hearing the conclusion of the tale, Akbar muses,
No woman in the history of the world had made a journey like hers. He loved her for it and admired her too, but he was also sure that her journey across the Ocean Sea was a kind of dying, a death before death, because death too was a sailing away from the known into the unknown.
The life of The Enchantress of Florence is a fascinating one, and Rushdie admits that this, of all his works, is the best researched. Though some may find his writing overwrought, I always enjoy it, and look forward to his future efforts.