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A Woman's Struggle: Rushdie's 'Enchantress'

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Salman Rushdie is known for writing sprawling historical novels that blur reality with fantasy. His latest novel, "The Enchantress of Florence," is no exception. Rushdie takes us from one exotic locale to the next, from Florence at the dawn of the Italian Renaissance to the court of India's ancient Mughal Empire.

Alan Cheuse has this review.

ALAN CHEUSE: As the novel opens, we see a stranger from the West who calls himself Mogor dell'Amore, or the Mughal of Love, swindle and murder in order to gain an audience with the great head of state.

When he gets his audience with the emperor, he tells a constantly changing and embellished story. It's a story right at the center of the larger narrative Rushdie recounts of the greatness and the utter fragility of a powerful empire.

In this half-discovered world, the writer announces, every day brought news of fresh enchantments. The visionary revelatory dream poetry of the quotidian had not yet been crushed by blinkered prose fact. But actually it's fact that's allowed Rushdie to construct this great dream palace of a novel. An eight-page bibliography follows the end of the story. To build his twin tale of life in the grand city of Florence, his hero's home, and Sikri, the Mughal's capital city to which he has traveled, the novelist had to digest a library wall of volumes.

In a world in which many readers seem to crave fact after fact after fact, the tiresome legacy of our Puritan ancestors, Rushdie miraculously turns fact into something greater. Transforming clay bricks into gold, he gives facts life, telling a tale of two cities teeming with what Latin American magical realists call marvelous reality. And marvelous above all are the women, from prostitutes to empresses, real and imaginary. And the most marvelous of all the women is our hero's supposed ancestor, Qara Koz, the beautiful sorceress who makes the reverse journey from East to West. She becomes, as Rushdie calls her, a new symbol of Florence, the incarnation in human form of the unsurpassable loveliness of the city itself, the dark lady of Florence.

Poets reached for their pens, artists for their brushes, sculptors for their chisels. My guess is that as soon as he met her, Salman Rushdie started typing.

BLOCK: "The Enchantress of Florence" is the latest novel from Salman Rushdie. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alan Cheuse
Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.