It’s been a while since I blogged about books, any book. Blame it on school. I’m in my first semester of PhD studies, and am feeling my way back into the social sciences after a twenty-year hiatus.
But with the sem winding to a close, and with my requirements done – well, mostly done, except for a couple of papers that just need finishing touches – I’m ready to hunker down for some serious reading. With that end in mind, I hit Fully Booked last week and carted off several inexpensive paperbacks, among them Salman Rushdie’s 2008 offering, The Enchantress of Florence.
I have admired his work ever since reading his The Satanic Verses, in 1998, which so offended the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Ayatollah’s regime slapped a fatwa on him for offending Islam, put a price on his head, and had every Muslim out for his life, forcing him to go into hiding for ten years. Nothing like notoriety to bring an author to the top of the bestseller’s lists! That and the scandal of a bald, aging writer mysteriously attracting the most gorgeous women on the planet. You have to wonder – what’s he got that isn’t obvious? Maybe if we read his books, we’d find out.
The Enchantress of Florence is pure Rushdie – masterful use of language, deft story-telling, plots within plots. This novel is well-researched, mixing, as it does, the history of Renaissance Florence and the Mughal Empire in a rollicking tale featuring a European storyteller calling himself “Mogor dell’Amore” (The Mughal of Love); Akbar the Mughal Emperor; and the Enchantress, whom Mogor claims is his mother.
Though long-dead, she captures the imagination of Akbar and that of the populace of his city of Fatehpur-Sikri so intensely that she acquires a life of her own that makes her even more real than the other people in the book.
Indeed, the insubstantial ghosts of women are more important than those of flesh-and-blood. Akbar’s favorite queen, Jodha, is imaginary, created and sustained by the force of his will, inhabiting his palace like a shadow. Yet the resentment of his other queens against the phantasm is all too real. Later it is directed against the “Enchantress”, Qara Koz (“Black Eyes”), the sister of Akbar’s ancestor Babar, when she gains a life of her own.
Stripped of its flowery language and convoluted storyline, the novel centers around an impossibly beautiful woman and her magical effect on the men around her. Like la belle dame sans merci, she loves only as long as she wants to, but her men love her forever.
One wonders – was Rushdie inspired by a real woman – someone, perhaps, like his fourth wife, actress Padma Lakshmi, from whom he was recently divorced?
Having lived with such glamorous arm candy for three years, it isn’t far-fetched to speculate that here is Rushdie’s “Enchantress” in the flesh, and the novel, his tribute to a stunning woman who captured his heart, his fancy, and his imagination.