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Rushdie's 'Enchantress' Conjures Fanciful Voyage

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Salman Rushdie's new novel, The Enchantress of Florence, has been hailed by critics as a novel of glamour and power. It's a lush Renaissance imagining of that dreamlike city so beloved by novelists, but it's also a story about East and West.

The many-tiered narrative spins around the world, following a roguish Florentine traveler to the 16th century Mughal court of Akbar the Great and a gorgeous, black-eyed princess. A possible descendent of Kubla Khan, she seems to exist solely to steal men's hearts. Rushdie's shimmering — and occasionally precious — characters range from a spying eunuch to a clutch of giant albino Swiss mercenaries to real-life contemporary figures, including Machiavelli, Botticelli and Vlad the Impaler.

But The Enchantress of Florence is perhaps most of all a novel about women and the men who live with them, lust for them and define themselves by their fantasies about them. In a rave review in The Guardian, author Ursula K. Le Guin wrote that the book exists in "the land of story: ... the child's world, the ancestral, pre-scientific world, where we are all emperors or enchantresses, making up the rules as we go along."

Other reviews have found The Enchantress of Florence a lesser masterpiece, at least when compared to such earlier Rushdie novels as The Moor's Last Sigh, Midnight's Children or The Satanic Verses, that dazzlingly dark romp that incited a murderous edict from the Ayatollah Khomeini. Threats against Rushdie appear to have receded, and the author has since enjoyed accolades, including a British knighthood and a 2008 award, selected through an online poll, honoring Midnight's Children as the very best of all books that have won the prestigious Booker Prize.

This author appearance, sponsored by the Politics and Prose bookstore, was recorded in June 2008 at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington; onsite audio engineering by David E. Eisner.

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