Author: Salman Rushdie
Genre: Literary Adult Fiction/Magical Realism
Synopsis: A tall, yellow-haired young European traveller calling himself 'Mogor dell'Amore', the Mughal of Love, arrives at the court of the real Grand Mughal, the Emperor Akbar, with a tale to tell that begins to obsess the whole imperial capital.
The stranger claims to be the child of a lost Mughal princess, the youngest sister of Akbar's grandfather Babar: Qara Koz, 'Lady Black Eyes', a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, who is taken captive first by an Uzbek warlord, then by the Shah of Persia, and finally becomes the lover of a certain Argalia, a Florentine soldier of fortune, commander of the armies of the Ottoman Sultan.
When Argalia returns home with his Mughal mistress the city is mesmerized by her presence, and much trouble ensues.
"The Enchantress of Florence" is the story of a woman attempting to command her own destiny in a man's world. It brings together two cities that barely know each other - the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant emperor wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire and the treachery of sons, and the equally sensual Florentine world of powerful courtesans, humanist philosophy and inhuman torture, where Argalia's boyhood friend "il Machia" - Niccolo' Machiavelli - is learning, the hard way, about the true brutality of power.
These two worlds, so far apart, turn out to be uncannily alike, and the enchantments of women hold sway over them both. But is Mogor's story true? And if so, then what happened to the lost princess? And if he's a liar, must he die?
Why did I pick it up?: A staff suggested read while I was at Tattered Cover, where I visited last June. And yes, sometimes I take a year to read a book on my shelves.
Favorite Line: "Seems that even the plague was no match for Mamma's sweet polenta."
My Review: It's difficult to write a non-spoiler filled review for this one. It's more than a story within a story. The Enchantress of Florence has stories within stories within stories being told to characters and the reader simultaneously. Rushdie keeps the pages turning by having unanswered questions in the present tale of the yellow-haired traveler who narrates the inner story to the Emperor of India. The past story of Qara Koz, the lost princess, and three childhood friends in Florence provides the meat of the middle of the book.
Historic fact blends with fantastical myth and a dash of magical realism to create a patchwork tale or rather a collection of tales. I think, if you know a little of Europe's history-particularly 15th century-you will be pulled in to the story easier than if you do not.
There's a lot of magic used, even if much of it is the sleight of hand variety. Some of it can be explained as skill and the right application of perfumes but other events cannot and that magical ambiguity pleased this fantasy-loving-writer-girl immensely.
In the beginning, I thought the yellow-haired visitor, Mogor, was a charlatan but it turns out there is some enchantment about him. Whether it is enough to save his life once his story is finished is the question that kept me reading.
Next Week: American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It's my first e-book from the library!