Saturday, September 13, 2014

Books before I'm 30: The Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie

My previous knowledge of Salmon Rushdie was that he had written a book which caused the Ayatollah to declare a fatwah on him. If you judge a man by his enemies, he's looking pretty good.

Coming into this book I had very little expectations, other than it might be a slightly literary work. I was very pleased to find it a joy to read. It follows the tale of a man who travels from Florence to tell the Emperor/Sultan a story of his mother, who is a lost princess. The story draws heavily on the myths and legends of Arabia, leading to an engaging sense of magical realism: the Emperor imagined his wife into existence, at one point the protagonist gains entry to the palace by using unguents which make everyone fall in love with him. This is cleverly contrasted with the more earthy world of Florence, where, if you believe the story, practically everyone is obsessed with having sex with one another, to the point where three young boys will run to a hanging to get a man's semen, so that they can grow a mandrake.

Not a story you could share with children then, but a fun one, and an engaging one. It conjures a wonderful, deep world, with fascinating characters, and made me want to spend lots of time enjoying this company. If I had a gripe with it it would be that the ending feels a little too tidy, a little too pat. I almost wanted more from it, maybe a sense of mystery or confusion, while the book mostly just ends. Still, I would happily recommend this book to all.

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