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The Enchantress of Florence, By Salman Rushdie

We know that Rushdie will never pick up a full deck of positive reviews for anything he writes, but the predictable divisions that greeted this spectacular fantasia should not mask its sheer panache and pace.

At the glittering court of Emperor Akbar, a blond stranger arrives with tall tales of a love story that binds the Mughal capital with distant Europe. In Florence, two generations earlier, Machiavelli and his ambitious pals watch their city of over-active brains and loins fall under the spell of an Evita-like princess from the fabulous East.

The brio of Rushdie's yarn-spinning unites Renaissances in India and Italy via a sumptuous web of cross-cultural adventures. And the portrait of doubting Akbar – the melancholy potentate who sought to reconcile all religions, and passed beyond them all – pays his most heartfelt tribute yet to the free, enquiring mind.

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