The first Rushdie book that I had read was ‘the Midnight Children’, the one which had won him the Man Booker award, and I must say I wasn’t exactly enamoured by it. So when I came across ‘the Enchantress of Florence’, I thought twice before picking it up.believe me when I say I wasn’t disappointed. Far from it, actually.
The plot mainly revolves around the beautiful Qara Koz, also known as Angelica, a disowned sister of Babur and Antonino Argalia, a swashbuckling Florentine adventurer, as recited by a mysterious European magician (who calls himself ‘Mogor del Amor’) to Emperor Akbar.
The story telling is innovative and non-linear, and is told in the form of two or three parallel stories at the same time, with Mogor’s recitation to Akbar being the backbone. There is a lot of magic and enchantments and “fantasization” of history, as is usual in many Rushdie books.
Qara Koz, later called Lady Angelica, is a disinherited Mughal princess, who had left her family and had married Shaibani Khan, a fearsome Uzbek warlord and a mortal enemy of the Timurids. But she was a cursed gem. As beautiful as the angels, yet a misfortune for all those who possessed her. Loyalty was not her quality and she easily swayed and enthralled the minds of all those who beheld her. Antonino, in the meantime, had left Florence, is shown to grow up as a janissary slave of the Ottomans. His ferocious skill, his cunning and his conspicuous lack of mercy has allowed him to rise through the ranks to become a general to the Bayezid dynasty of Ottomans. As the paths of Antonino and Qara Koz cross, it makes for a great love story fraught with sorrow and misfortune.
The book is a treat for history buffs, as the story spans Italy, Ottoman Empire, Persia and India during the early Renaissance period, and the plot is not confined to its characters but the readers are made acquainted with the very conditions of the country, all of which affect the story. That Rushdie calls this his ‘most researched book’ is more than evident.
The best thing that I liked about the story are the characters. There is a feeling of unrealism and fantasy, yet the way Rushdie has described them, you can’t help but fall in love with the beautiful Qara Koz, who’s eyes would sway the minds of the greatest of men and who’s beauty was the bane of empires, or with Antonino, who is as pale and beautiful as a woman and as deadly in his skill as death itself. And there is Akbar too, who’s desire and obsession could pull shrouds of illusion and affect all those who are around him.
Notice the difference between characters and character development. There is not much offered by the way of character development. The characters are not explored as much as one would have liked, not that we could expect the author to do justice to all the characters in the story, considering that there are many. I also feel that the author has tended to certain stereotypes throughout the story. The “fantasization” of history may also not strike a chord with many of the readers, though in my opinion that’s where most of the book’s appeal lies.
OVERALL, I would rate the book 4.5/ 5. Its a good book and should appeal to most of the readers.