"Enchantress of Florence" by Salman Rushdie

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My first foray into things Rushdie, and I came away excessively diverted. This is an Arabian Nights-type tale, with magic, enchanted emperors, and an exotic locale.

We have an Italian nobleman, Il Machio (who, I figured out embarrassingly late, is Niccolo Machiavelli), who travels to the Mughal Empire (in present-day India and Pakistan) and claims he is the Emperor's uncle. There turns out to be some possible justification for this improbable claim, and Il Machio enjoys favor in the court for a time. The eponymous Enchantress has the power to put entire cities in her thrall, which she does the capital, for most of the book; she can also come back from the dead.

A good part of this book's energy flows from this tension: men have temporal power over women in this world, but women have emotional power over men. For all its fabulous subject matter, this book is firmly planted in the ground of real human nature. The Emperor is given considerable intuitive powers, and is an enlightened ruler for the age, but eventually Il Machio's stars dim, and all his good fortune must turn.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly - I didn't know what to expect from Rushdie. What I got was highly imaginative and picked me up and carried me away. Recommended.
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