THE written record cannot be trusted in Salman Rushdie's newest novel, "The Enchantress of Florence," a story that roams from the red sandstone palace of the great Mughal emperor Akbar to the towered Palazzo in Machiavelli's Florence. One character is erased from official history, a second is imagined into existence, a third is hopelessly mischaracterized.
It is a situation with which Mr. Rushdie is all too familiar. In books and periodicals, photographs and newspapers (like this one) that capture fragments of contemporary life, he is well known to millions of people who have never read him as a damnable blasphemer of Islam, an arrogant and ungrateful British subject, or a member of a literary Brat Pack with a preference for young models.
"A cartoon of yourself is created, then it is used to attack you with," Mr. Rushdie said over a lunch of steak tartare, French fries and a Diet Coke on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Unfortunately for Mr. Rushdie, in recent years the cartoon celebrity has at times threatened to eclipse the writer. "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" (1999) and "Fury" (2001) received rough treatment from a number of critics. And while his last novel, "Shalimar the Clown," garnered some raves, John Updike wrote a particularly pointed review in The New Yorker declaring that "Rushdie as a literary performer suffers, I think, from being not just an author but a cause célèbre and a free-speech martyr."