The stranger claims to be the child of a lost Mughal princess, the youngest sister of Akbar's grandfather Babar: Qara Koz, 'Lady Black Eyes', a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, who is taken captive first by an Uzbek warlord, then by the Shah of Persia, and finally becomes the lover of a certain Argalia, a Florentine soldier of fortune, commander of the armies of the Ottoman Sultan.
When Argalia returns home with his Mughal mistress the city is mesmerised by her presence, and much trouble ensues. It brings together two cities that barely know each other - the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant emperor wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire and the treachery of sons, and the equally sensual Florentine world of powerful courtesans, humanist philosophy and inhuman torture, where Argalia's boyhood friend 'il Machia' - Niccolo Machiavelli - is learning about the true brutality of power.
These two worlds, so far apart, turn out to be uncannily alike, and the enchantments of women hold sway over them both. But is Mogor's story true? And if so, then what happened to the lost princess? And if he's a liar, must he die?
©2008 Salman Rushdie; (P)2008 Recorded Books LLC
Eclectic mixer of books of my youth and ones I always meant to read, but didn't.
In the beginning there were three friends, Vispucci, Machiavelli and Argalia ... in fact that is neither the beginning nor the end. But it is a beginning and, although the road takes a long time to reach its end, it is worth the wait, if not always the baggage that Rushdie forces the reader to carry.
I love Rushdie's writing; lyrical, poetic, epic in every sense of that word. Having read most of his books (both those written prior to this one and after it), I am more than accustomed to the slow build, the pendulous language and the unapologetic demands he makes upon the reader to get past the first fifty pages. But this took longer than the norm. It was nearly to the end of Part Two before it had me in its grip. By Part Three I could not stop listening. And, of course, for me, the ending was perfect.
In many ways it was a superior ending to Satanic Verses, but overall it stands behind that great novel, and, of course, behind Midnight's Children. In many ways I preferred Shalimar over it, too. But overall, there is no denying the gift for words and the images one might create with words that Rushdie possesses. There is here some of the best prose I have read (or had read to me) in many years. In my opinion, there is no one in the modern literary pantheon who approaches it (although Ben Okri came close with "Famished Road"). I will not attempt to pick passages; there are too many. Maybe this is because the text runs too long (although one is spared the extensive bibliography that appears in the hardcopy) and some of the detail is superfluous (perhaps for the reason that "Victoria" suggests in Eve's Alexandria's 2008 blog). Perhaps some of the language is too flowery. I have some empathy with the NYT review by David Gates in this regard. Yet, in the end, the story captured my heart. It is after all a great love story. 1001 Arabian Nights, Kipling and more thrown together and woven into a magic carpet to ride upon across time, and lands, and friendships.
Also, it combines one of my favourite cities (Florence) and one I've recently visited, Fatehpur Sikri and so created immediate interest for me. I suggest you Google the latter for images if you've never been there. The landscape is as beautiful as the language used to describe it (although I wouldn't listen to it in the car with the kids if you are at all concerned about the F word, and the occasional C).
Finally, it remains to say something of the narrator. Unfortunately, I just couldn't get into him for the First Two Parts, but even this could not upset the beauty of the Final Part. Again, I would give him a bare pass (2.5) if I could, but he certainly passed so three stars it is.
Final thoughts: don't read this if you don't like Rushdie, you like simple language or you are naturally impatient. Don't read this as your first Rushdie, either. Read this if you love literature, beautifully constructed sentences, paragraphs and passages. Read this if you always dreamed, or dream, of a perfect love taken to its imperfect extreme. The end justifies the means employed to reach it.
"narrators accent & intonation is distracting"
i've only been listening for 20 minutes, and i'm finding the narrators voice extremely distracting; a voice so full of suppressed yawns, so slow and drone-like, it's as if he thinks he's talking to an idiot. it is inelegant; and it does disservice to the language - whose texture and music is half the pleasure of a rushdie book. Modern drawling american is so inappropriate to this material that it's really a shame and a waste; so much better to have chosen a narrator capable of rendering indian-english and european accents. even as i type, this narrator has just murdered a 'scots' accent into a sliding mess of hammy irish, and some sort of unidentifiable generic 'foreign' mash. i guess the american market must be lucrative for rushdie (though i find this slightly surprising - are there simply more islamophobes, buying rushdie as a patriotic point?) seriously, i think they should re-record for an English market - i really don't know how much longer i can stand his voice at this rate
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