three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
36-Sept-Oct-2008
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0
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SR-EnchantressFlorenceIn the 16th century, "before the real and unreal were segregated forever," a tall, golden-haired European traveler calling himself the Mughal of Love arrives at Fatehpur Sikri, India, the capital and court of Mughal ruler Akbar the Great. He carries with him a dangerous secret—and many stories. The stranger, claiming to be an emissary of Queen Elizabeth I, regales Akbar with tales of a hidden, magical Mughal princess and her journey to Medici-ruled Florence. Suspicious but charmed, Akbar, too, has his stories—about his many wives (one imaginary), his successors, and his belief in universal harmony and religious tolerance. As the stories of two cities at the height of their powers—Fatehpur Sikri, of the Muslim East, and Florence, of the Christian West—converge, Akbar wrestles with new philosophical ideals and the nature of power.
Random House. 355 pages. $26. ISBN: 0375504338

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Rushdie coaxes the readers out of the literal into the world of the imagination. But it’s not a tale about escapism. Akbar’s most profound act of imagination isn’t how he believes in the traveler’s tale of the Enchantress, but how he decides to become a kinder ruler than his grandfather or father." John Freeman

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It stacks institutional orthodoxy against maverick thought, and the power of love against the pragmatics of realpolitik. … Rushdie, in turn, beguiles the reader with a sleight-of-hand narrative that’s a dizzying dance of veils, postponing its ultimate revelations until the last dozen pages." Michael Upchurch

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Set during the 16th century, The Enchantress of Florence is altogether ramshackle as a novel—oddly structured, blithely mixing history and legend and distinctly minor compared to such masterworks as The Moor’s Last Sigh and Midnight’s Children—and it is really not a novel at all. It is a romance, and only a dry-hearted critic would dwell on the flaws in so delightful an homage to Renaissance magic and wonder." Michael Dirda

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Whether this considerable effort is rewarded will depend on a reader’s taste for adventure, zestfully fictionalized—at a tangy slant—from history. … What’s missing may be unfair to seek in this brand of saga: any glimmer in the teller of tenderness toward his tale, of emotional risk." Joan Frank

New York Times Book Review 1 of 5 Stars
"The Enchantress of Florence … revels in writerly self-congratulation. … [It] is so pious—especially in its impiety—so pleased with itself and so besotted with the sound of its own voice that even the tritest fancies get a free pass." David Gates

New York Times 0.5 of 5 Stars
"The Enchantress of Florence … feels static and enervated, as though it had been mechanically assembled from a recipe that included lots of research (about Medici Florence and the Mughal empire), a rote sprinkling of fantasy, and some perfunctory and strained allusions to some greater politico-religious issues (like the Sunni-Shiite split and Islam’s troubled role on the world stage). … [It’s] quite devoid of magic." Michiko Kakutani

USA Today0.5 of 5 Stars
"In the place of plot, character and simple coherence, Rushdie has substituted a lava flow of lavish language and arcane research. Instead of writing a novel, he’s published an annoying exercise in self-indulgence and literary showing off." Deirdre Donahue

Critical Summary

The Washington Post sums up general sentiment: If one can overlook its flaws, The Enchantress of Florence is "so delightful an homage to Renaissance magic and wonder." Rushdie combines his trademark mix of fantasy and reality in his exploration of East and West, power, love, loyalty, religion, humanism, and imagination. While many critics described the writing as sensual, evocative, and dreamy, and the portraits—Niccolò Machiavelli, Savonarola, and the Medicis—as intriguing, other reviewers were not so generous. A few faulted Rushdie’s mechanical storytelling, flat figures, over-the-top research, and self-indulgent digressions. But readers who focus on the wonder of the story rather than the particulars won’t be disappointed. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes: "Ideas and what we imagine have as much power over our lives as the tangible stuff, Rushdie seems to be telling us. They are both the basis of the modern world, this fable gently reminds, and its terrible bane."