Tag Archive: Mughal Empire

Jan 13

Book a Week Challenge # 2

WHAT’S PLAYING: Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby “Brother Bill”

This week’s book is “The Enchantress of Florence” by Salman Rushdie.

This is the tale of Niccolò Vespucci, a golden-haired wanderer, murderer, magician, and conman, who visits the royal court of Emperor Akbar, ruler of the Mughal Empire. There, Vespucci tells the story of Qara Köz, Enchantress of Florence, lost Mughal princess, and the most beautiful woman in the world.

This was a tough one.

According to the jacket copy, “The Enchantress of Florence” is “the story of a mysterious woman, a great beauty believed to possess the powers of enchantment and sorcery, attempting to command her own destiny in a man’s world.” Unfortunately, Qara Köz is anything but. She has no personality, no purpose, except to please men. In fact, she does little more than sell herself to the highest bidder, making sure that she is always on the winning side. She doesn’t even show up for a third of the book.

The first hundred pages describe Niccolò’s struggle to reach the emperor and Akbar the Great’s internal musing about the nature of man and kings, which sometimes fall into the realm of proselytizing. The book is dense with obvious and sometimes unsuccessful attempts to reconcile East and West, Renaissance Europe and Mughal India, and the overall story just didn’t feel cohesive.

But the writing! Sweet Mother, the writing! So sumptuous, so beautiful, it left me shaking my head in awe. If I could do anything half as well as this man uses words, then I would die a happy, fulfilled woman. It’s his mastery of the craft, past all explanation, that gives this book its glamour and power, its glory. I spent hours completely absorbed in the tale, but it wasn’t the story that captivated me. It was the writing. After I finished it, all I could say was “Holy Shit.”

Favorite Line: “He could dream in seven languages. … He had picked up languages the way most sailors picked up diseases; languages were his gonorrhea, his syphilis, his scurvy, his ague, his plague. As soon as he fell asleep half the world started babbling in his brain, telling wondrous travelers’ tales. In this half-discovered world every day brought news of fresh enchantments. The visionary, revelatory dream-poetry of the quotidian had not yet been crushed by blinkered, prosy fact. Himself a teller of tales, he had been driven out of his door by stories of wonder, and by one in particular, a story which could make his fortune or cost him his life.”

What I Learned: Master your craft. I spent hours lost in this fantastical world. Was the story great? Not really. But the writing was superb. And it was that writing, the way Rushdie put me inside the story, which kept me reading. I don’t know if anyone else could have done the same. I guess what I learned is that great books can come from great stories or great writing, and if you’re lucky, both.

Coming next week: “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden.

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