British author Salman Rushdie says writing a new novel saved him from the “wreckage” of his divorce last year from fourth wife Padma Lakshmi.
The Enchantress of Florence, Rushdie’s 10th novel, is a story of 15th and 16th century court intrigue in Florence and the Mughal capital Fatehpur Sikri which marks a return to his trademark magical realism where fact and fantasy intertwine.
“It was a good place to go at a time when my private life was in a state of wreckage, and yes it was, I suppose, a bit of a refuge,” Rushdie said in an interview. “I think in the end what got me through it was the long familiarity of the necessary discipline of writing a novel.”
Rushdie, best known for his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses which outraged Muslims and forced him into hiding after a death edict was issued by Iran’s then supreme religious leader, announced the divorce in 2007, ending a three-year marriage.
“I found that in the end a lifetime’s habit of just going to my desk and doing a day’s work and not allowing myself not to do it is what got me back on track.
“I was derailed for a while. I was in bad shape and it brought me back to myself.” His tale of two cities centres around real-life characters like the great Mughal emperor Akbar and philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli in Italy and others like the mysterious beauty Qara Koz, who enchants men wherever she goes.
The novel, published by Random House, has divided critics, with the Guardian review saying it was “magnificent” and the
Sunday Times calling it “the worst thing he has ever written”.
The 60-year-old had originally intended to set the story completely in Europe, but ended up dividing the narrative between two great civilisations that barely knew of each other.
“In the end I wrote a book I didn’t expect to write,” Rushdie said. “I expected to write a book about difference and instead I found myself writing a book about the similarities.”
He argues that the parallels with today are clear: while humans are alike everywhere, they often fail to see it and so speak instead of a clash of cultures and religions.