I will always remember this book as the one that re-awakened my interest in Salman Rushdie. Prior to this, I had twice tried (unsuccessfully) to read his most successful book, 'Midnight's Children', and had given him up as a writer too convoluted for his own good.
I suppose its the Florence in the title that attracted me to this book (I'm a huge fan of Italy, and all things Italian). The review served only to intrigue me further. A heady mixture of old Indian empires, Italian culture and a healthy does of enchantment were promised. So I decided to give it a try.
It turned out to be an inspired choice. The story follows an Italian visitor to the Indian emperor Akbar's court claiming to be his relative. As preposterous as this suggestion seems, the visitor weaves a web of tales that make his claim seem not just credible but very probable. But this is just the pretext for this book. Its real strength is the narration. The author explores everything from the concept of religion, the intricacies of the Mughal emperor Akbar's court (& his nine jewels, the Navratnas), the events shaping up in Italy at the same time, to the depths of human nature. To combine so effortlessly two vastly different societies (mughal India and catholic Italy), and to flit gracefully from one to the other, and back; is the true achievement of this book.
Finally, this book establishes Rushdie firmly as a magician... of words! Some of the sentences are nothing less than exquisite necklaces woven from a string of wonderfully simple and necessarily complex gems of words. Most of the passages are an absolute joy to read. It makes one marvel at the heights to which human imagination can reach when at its inspired best.