Salman Rushdie, Florence and Tang sculptures

Bookmaker Ladbrokes has installed Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence as the 4-1 favourite to win the Man Booker prize this year. I find the book hard to put down, having finished two-thirds of the novel in the last two days, getting the references easily as an Indian, but I wonder if it’s too exotic for the West though quite a bit of it is about Florence.

Ah Florence! Reading the book brought back memories of the trip my wife and I made to Florence. She was in fact standing in the foreground of this picture which I cropped out before posting it here. This place with the copy of Michelangelo’s David, just a short walk from the Uffizi art gallery, is one of the favourite tourist attractions, much more crowded than the church square with a statue of the famous Florentine Dante.

Florence is back in the news again not just for The Enchantress of Florence, which has more to do with India during the rule of Akbar the great Mughal, but also for the Chinese. Yes, the Chinese.

Two stone sculptures — reproductions of a Tang warrior and a bureaucrat — gifted by the Chinese have become a problem for the authorities in Florence who don’t know what to do with them since the locals don’t want them. I first heard the story on the BBC World Service but though I couldn’t find it on the BBC website, here it is from the Guardian: Florence in a frenzy as city seeks home for ugly statues.

The Guardian does not mention this, but the BBC said the Chinese wished the statues to be installed near “water”. That would be on the banks of the Arno, I think, where they might look out of place. They would be an anachronism, at odds with the history of the place. Tourists visit Florence to see its Renaissance glories. Cultural exchanges are fine. But one should also respect history.

Back to Booker. The long list, which also includes Sea of Poppies by the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh, is as follows:

  • The White Tiger, by Adiga Aravind (Atlantic)
  • Girl in a Blue Dress, by Gaynor Arnold (Tindal Street Press)
  • The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry (Faber and Faber)
  • From A to X, by John Berger (Verso)
  • The Lost Dog, by Michelle de Kretser (Chatto & Windus)
  • Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh (John Murray)
  • The Clothes on Their Back, by Linda Grant (Virago)
  • A Case of Exploding Mangoes, by Mohammed Hanif (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Northern Clemency, by Philip Hensher (Fourth Estate)
  • Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill (Fourth Estate)
  • The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushdie (Jonathan Cape)
  • Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith (Simon & Schuster)
  • A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz (Hamish Hamilton)

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