34. The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
You don't read Rushdie for historical accuracy. However, I do love how this novel encompassed the coexisting worlds of Renaissance Italy, Mughal India, Persia, and the just discovered New World. I happen to think it was one of the most fascinating times in world history.
The novel is a series of stories within stories, with a charming disregard for chronology. You won't be able to keep track, especially at first, and it won't matter too much either, let Rushdie carry you gently from moment to moment. A yellow-haired stranger appears at the court of Akbar the Great (of India) with the tale that could loosely be called the Enchantress's. The cover asserts that this is a novel about women of the past reasserting themselves, and while this may be technically true, I wouldn't call this a book about female empowerment. The central female character forges her own destiny, yes, but she relies heavily on men, and seems to be very lost and confusing both to herself and the reader.
Instead, I might call it a not entirely successful attempt at redefining magical realism. Rushdie leads you on a path of wonders, only to stop abruptly with a plausible, and disappointing, explanation at every turn. A much more successful version of this technique would be Yann Martel's Life of Pi. Also, unlike Life of Pi, there is no clear message or purpose.
My favorite character was Akbar the Great. Rushdie fashioned him into a contradictory vain and benevolent philosopher-warrior. The inclusion of his imaginary wife Jodha, however, seemed weird and unnecessary. I don't want to get too nitpicky about historical accuracy, like I said before, but some of Akbar's philosophical rants sound too unbelievably modern.
Bookslut's Jessa Crispin mentioned the sex scenes were like "watching your father flirt with a waitress" or something equally awkward, and I can definitely see where she's coming from. All I can say is, it's fortunate there's little of it, but even more unfortunate that what there is makes me wonder if Rushdie has ever had a threesome.