Rushdie’s Historical Embroideries
Breanne Boland July 10,
The Enchantress of Venice (Random House, 355 pages)
blends history, myth and magic into a shaded narrative that brings
East to West and fancy to fact.
a story connected by stories—characters reinvent their own
pasts, regale each other with epic tales and construct their own
reputations in a way that sometimes makes it unclear which point
of view is the tale and which is the telling.
of all this is a young, blond man with many names who brings his
latest incarnation to the court of emperor Akbar of Mughal. From
the start, he wants to ingratiate himself to the emperor and become
part of the court, but his reason and his endgame are unclear.
The young man entrances the emperor with a tale of a beautiful
young woman and her look-alike servant who have a knack for being
the spoils of war, creating a long path that leads her out of
south Asia and the Middle East into Florence. There the town’s
suspicion turns to love as the citizens are taken in by her calming
influence and tremendous beauty.
say that this book is about this enchantress or any of the others
referenced in the book is to unforgivably simplify this fanciful
tour of history. The cast of characters includes Niccolo Machiavelli,
a fortune-seeking orphan, a make-believe wife, harems, eunuchs
and Medicis. Two worlds come together through the yellow-haired
stranger, to the point that it’s sometimes unclear which
world is the dream and which is the ordinary reality seeking an
escape in the exotic.
book bobs and weaves, using dreamy, arm-length sentences and stunning
descriptions to bring both Florence and the emperor’s realm
into our own dreary reality. Discovery and explorations are matters
of course, the boundary of the world’s edge is being pushed
by Columbus and Vespucci, and the world is infused with a glittery
magic that makes anything seem possible. And in a world with seas
believed to be riddled with giant, boat-eating monsters, this
doesn’t seem out of place.
to taking some liberties with history, but his grounding research
keeps his pretty story from slipping into being a mere fable or
fairy tale. He embellishes and embroiders rather than out and
out fabricating. In a book full of entertainers and yarn spinners,
this just seems another layer added in the telling. This isn’t
precisely historical fiction, but that may just be because the
idea of Rushdie’s version of the past is so lovely that
it would be a wonderful thing if it were true.
David Sedaris has written another volume of autobiographical essays.
Whenever anyone makes a living exploiting their own past and that
of their loved ones, there’s a risk of hitting the bottom
of the barrel by volume two or three. It’s the same fate
many one-album bands meet—the quirky situations and crazy
characters of ordinary life are vanquished by the stability of
being a successful author.
neuroses are brought forth to sustain his latest book, When You
Are Engulfed in Flames (Little, Brown and Company, 336 pages).
Always present in his past books, they step into the spotlight
here, whether he’s musing over his nonexistent man-butt
or angst-ing over sartorial choices. The effect can be bloggish;
it feels like an editor should’ve stepped in and gently
opined that such musings can be very interesting over dinner,
but several pages of stories about a crabby ex-neighbor can be
a little wearing.
Even so, there
are some worthwhile gems in here. The standout is the title essay,
a many-part story of his trip to Japan, a shift meant to help
him quit smoking. Sedaris was a hopelessly devoted smoker, and
his struggles with shedding the addiction while trying to learn
Japanese brings out the best in him.
not his best effort—that would be Naked or Me Talk Pretty
One Day—but this book still has more “Oh my god, I
have to read this to you” passages than most.