Stephen Abell writing in The Telegraph reviews The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Cape. (NZ publication 4 April, $36.99)
As a boy in Sixties Bombay, Salman Rushdie saw colour films for the first time. One of the early examples was Mughal-e-Azam, an epic treatment of the life of Emperor Akbar, the 16th-century Grand Mughal, which had one reel of colour cinematography showing a spectacular dance at court.
It must have made an impression: nearly 50 years on, he has produced his own version of Akbar's life, happily splashed with its own startling hues; an all-dancing, colourful performance leaping up from the pages.
The Enchantress of Florence tells the tale of a sandy-haired European visitor to Sikri, Akbar's capital city. He styles himself "Mogor dell'Amore" (the Mughal of Love), and says he is Akbar's long-lost relative, the son of Qara Köz ("Lady Black Eyes"), a "hidden" Mughal princess.
She had been exiled from India and fell in love with Argalia, an Italian mercenary (friend to Niccolò Machiavelli, cousin to Amerigo Vespucci), who provided military muscle for the Ottoman Turks and then the city of Florence. The novel's story is Mogor's story, a "swirling transcontinental composition" moving between Asia and Renaissance Europe, as he tries to convince Akbar of his legitimacy as a member of the royal family.
Of course, it is not as simple as all that (and that is not at all simple). Mogor also goes by the names of Uccello di Firenze (which he then drops "like the abandoned skin of a snake") and Niccolò Vespucci; Argalia is actually "Argalia or Arcalia" or one of "Argalia, Arcalia, Arqalia, Al-Khaliya"; Qara Köz is the eponymous Enchantress also known as Angelica, and may easily be confused with her identical slave or "Mirror".
Seasoned followers of contemporary fiction may recognise the game Rushdie is playing here. Certainly, The Enchantress of Florence is, among other things (historical romp, fairy tale, celebration of inclusiveness), a postmodern working-through of ideas around identity and storytelling.
The prose is fast, simple and prioritises facility over felicity. It is full of alliteration (Akbar is "a feudal ruler absurdly fond of talking about freedom") and anachronistic vernacular: "he had always been a stick-in-the-mud who thought of wild Amerigo as a hot-air merchant whose accounts of himself needed to be taken with a pinch of salt".
The resultant, splendid farrago suggests that Rushdie has recalled his own childlike wonder at the flash of brightness he enjoyed in the Sixties, and has sought to recreate that experience for the reader.
While 1990's Haroun and the Sea of Stories was Rushdie's first novel for children, The Enchantress of Florence is, in the best sense of the word, childish fiction for adults: a welcome splash of bright colour; Rushdie, a virtuoso in poster-paint.
Read the full review........... And here is the review from The Guardian.