Reading: The Enchantress of Florence

I’m about a quarter of the way into this book and whoa! It is absolutely fantastic. Oh that Salman Rushdie! *swoon* He is truly one of my all-time favorite writers.

I can’t really “review” this book since I’m only on page 91 but I can tell you about the setting. The Enchantress of Florence is a historical novel that takes place during the mid sixteenth century, mainly in India. At that time India was part of the Moghul Empire which originated with Genghis Khan. The empire was huge, covering much of Asia including the Silk Road.

The novel is set during the reign of the emperor Akbar the Great, who was quite a fascinating character. I know this because I looked him up on Wikipedia to find out how much of Rushdie’s portrayal of him is fact and how much is, well, Rushdie. From what I can tell he was nearly as fascinating in real life as he is in the book. He was quite the puissant warrior, but also a sensitive soul who grieved whenever he had to kill somebody. He was charismatic and philosophical: a whole religion sprang up around him. He was an enlightened ruler: he married off the daughters of rival chiefs to form alliances instead of killing them, he didn’t interfere with local religions, etc. Here is a taste:

The country was at peace at last, but the king’s spirit was never calm. The king had just returned from his last campaign, he had slapped down the upstart in Surat, but through the long days of marching and war his mind wrestled with philosophical and linguistic conundrums as much as military ones. The emperor Abul-Fath Jalaluddin Muhammad, king of kings, known since his childhood as Akbar, meaning “the great,” and latterly, in spite of the tautology of it, as Akbar the Great, the great great one, great in his greatness, doubly great, so great that the repetition in his title was not only appropriate but necessary in order to express the gloriousness of his glory — the Grand Mughal, the dusty, battle-weary, victorious, pensive, incipiently overweight, disenchanted, mustachioed, poetic, oversexed, and absolute emperor, who seemed altogether too magnificent, too world-encompassing, and, in sum, too much to be a single human personage — this all-engulfing flood of a ruler, this swallower of worlds, this many-headed monster who referred to himself in the first person plural — had begun to meditate, during his long, tedious journey home, on which he was accompanied by the heads of his defeated enemies bobbing in their sealed earthen pickle-jars, about the disturbing possibilities of the first person singular — the “I.”

Akbar obsesses over the possibility of referring to himself as I instead of We quite a bit. He actually tries it out on his favorite wife (who happens to be imaginary, yes I said imaginary), but finds it impossible. I don’t know why but I just find that so touching.

There’s a whole plot going on besides, and the main instigator is a young man who has come from Europe to Akbar’s court. I will save this character for another post after I’ve read more, but in the meantime I’ll just tell you that this guy is one of the grandest fictional rogues I’ve ever met. Oh heck, one more quote:

Near the end of his long reign, many years after the time of the charlatan Mogor dell’Amore had passed, the aging emperor nostalgically remembered that strange affair . . . . When the emperor learned the truth he understood all over again how daring a sorcerer he had encountered on that long-ago morning after the dream of the crow. By then, however, the knowledge was of no use to him, except to remind him of what he should never have forgotten, that witchcraft requires no potions, familiar spirits, or magic wands. Language upon a silvered tongue affords enchantment enough.

Oh yes it does!

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