Sometimes, I like to let my imagination off the leash to run wild. Over Christmas, I allowed it to run with the vampires, reading all four of the Twilight books for teenage girls in rapid succession. Fun, yes, but by the end, I felt like a kid who had binged on too much Hallowe'en candy.
Last week, I decided it would be better if my imagination really ran wild, but with some adult content. So, I read Salman Rushdie's latest novel, "The Enchantress of Florence." Despite the mixed reviews it has received since its release last June, I thought it was wonderful.
Now, it's certainly not for everyone. The reader must be prepared to suspend all disbelief. Rushdie's tales are based on a kind of magic realism, where time is blurred and imaginary characters co-exist with their real masters. Certain scents truly can bewitch and the presence of a certain enchantress can calm an entire city-state -- even Renaissance Florence, where the line between enchantress and witch is as thin as the match it would take to burn her at the stake.
Very roughly, the story begins in the 16th century when a yellow-haired adventurer, Niccolo Vespucci, finds his way to the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar in his glorious palace complex at Fatehpur Sikri. Akbar is 'a Muslim vegetarian, a warrior who wanted only peace, a philosopher-king: a contradiction in terms'.
Vespucci, a Florentine, is filled with tall tales from his travels, yet maintains he is also an ambassador from the Queen of England -- and, incredibly, the Mughal's long-lost uncle.
Like the stories of Scheherazade, the telling of these tales takes a long time and travels through many digressions, all aimed at supporting Vespucci's claim to be the son of the legendary Qara Köz, the 'Lady Black Eyes', a descendant of Genghis Khan and the Mughal's great-aunt. How she winds up in Renaissance Florence, friends with the Medici and with Niccolo Machiavelli, is all part of his tale.
It's a fun journey to take. The language is sumptuous, glorious to read. Hard to follow, at times, but still fun. In the end, I know that I lost the thread of a few tales amongst the many in this novel, but I can still see the beautiful tapestry spread out before me.