February 16, 2009

The Enchantress of Florence - Salman Rushdie

I must confess that the first Salman Rushdie book that I read was The Satanic Verses, and that reading was inspired by the controversy that the book itself had inspired.  But in reading The Satanic Verses, I discovered an author whose books I continue to enjoy.

The Enchantress of Florence is his latest book, published in 2008 and winner of the Booker Prize.  It is vintage Rushdie, with all of the elements of Phantasie (deserving of the old-fashioned spelling), ambiguity and time-bending of his other books, drawn together by beautiful writing.  I think that is what I enjoy most about Salman Rushdie's books - he is a true craftsman with the English language, with not a word misplaced.  A few excerpts, describing Jodha, the phantom queen created by the Emperor Akbar:

"The creation of a real life from a dream was a superhuman act, usurping the prerogative of the gods.  In those days Sikri was swarming with poets and artists, those preening egotists who claimed for themselves the power of language and image to conjure beautiful somethings from empty nothings, and yet neither poet nor painter, musician nor sculptor had come close to what the emperor, the Perfect Man, had achieved."

"She was a woman without a past, separate from history, or, rather, possessing only such history as he had been pleased to bestow upon her, and which the other queens bitterly contested.  The question of her independent existence, of whether she had one, insisted on being asked, over and over, whether she willed it or not.  If God turned his face away from his creation, Man, would Man simply cease to be?"

The story is a good old-fashioned fairy tale - a princess abducted from the Mogul court who ends up in Persia, the Ottoman empire, Florence, and finally the New World.  There are phantoms, magic, and witchcraft galore.  The tale is not told in a linear manner but rather jumps back and forth in time and locale.  I'm sure that the book isn't to everyone's taste, but I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Now back to finish up my Giller Prize read-athon...

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