Winner of England's prestigious Whitbread Ward, Rushdie's first novel in seven years is a peppery melange of genres: a deliciously inventive family saga; a subversive alternate history of modern India; a fairy tale as inexhaustibly imagined as any in The Arabian Nights; and a book of ideas on topics from art to ethnicity, from religious fanaticism to the terrifying power of love.
I originally bought "The Moor's Last Sigh" a couple of years ago when I was going on holiday to southern India since the first part of the book is set in and around Cochin, the spice capital, which was one of the places I visited. Hence I have seen and visited a number of the places mentioned in the book, including the harbour, the synagogue, the spice shops in the old Jewish quarter and St Francis' church, as well as the famous "Chinese" fishing nets.
The one foreshadowing I cannot forgive involves a "walkman" and its use as a tool of destruction. Too mundane a plot my dear Mr. Rushdie!
Perhaps one of Rushdie's more accessible novels, the story follows a more conventional narrative, although to call anything Rushdie writes conventional is inaccurate. In this case the story follows a family history, that of the Zoigoby clan, which takes us into Jewish, Moorish, Spanish and Indian heritage, illuminating perfections and defects of the body, mind and spirit. There is very much a theme of isolation of spirit and intellect in this novel, of loneliness despite crowded and intimate environments. In conjunction with that Rushdie marries political unrest to to restless spirits, so that both microcosmic and macrocosmic time flow around and through each other, so that one has a sense of a ship tossed upon a boundless sea.
As always there is a fluid and adept use of language and phraseology that defies every literary convention, and in doing so creates breathtaking art. One comes away wanting to memorize phrases for their utter beauty and sagacity. But let it not be thought this is a novel only of high art, for certainly throughout the story Rushdie's irreverent and incisive wit prevail, so that at times I caught myself bursting into laughter.
I would have to say that if a person is new to Rushdie's work, The Moor's Last Sigh would be a perfect introduction.
Highly recommended, and certainly a novel that should be a staple in anyone's library.
Rushdie, as usual, is too, too much. He drops in new characters, makes abrupt shifts, skips in geography, and invents new layers of fiction. Nothing is final, nothing decided. Except the ending.
The first half of the book is just about flawless - a wonderful family history of the most vivid characters - not all good or all bad, but good and bad in very believable ways; not constant, but very humanly inconsistent. And the story line woven from these characters is just as compelling as the characters themselves, with a weaving of the current characters into a backdrop of historical references.
The second half of the book isn't quite as good. The word play and flourishes become a little undergraduate - the Cashondeliveri family, and the four siblings named in accordance with eeny, meenie, mynie and mo. And the story line goes a little overboard - the Moor's life is lived at double speed - his bood is 40 years old when he turns 20; the patriarch extends his successful business career into drug smuggling and nuclear weapon proliferation.
But even with flaws this was a wonderful read.
Read March 2016
It’s always interesting to read a book by Salman Rushdie because he so playfully ties so many distinct ideas together, and puts them in a novel light. And I like the fact that the light he chooses is not a conventional Euro-centric one. Using the expulsion of the Moors from Spain as a lens for viewing India’s post-colonial history may be an eccentric model, but it works at many levels.
I knew only the fact of the expulsion of the Moors, but Rushdie adds to that the poetry of loss from the last Moorish ruler’s point of view. Instead of the righteous victory of Christianity over Islam that we typically hear, it becomes a sad story of an artistic culture destroyed by violence. This turns the expulsion of the British from India upside down, and I wonder if that’s what Rushdie intended. But it’s also a metaphor for personal loss when the artistic side of the narrator’s family is destroyed by crime, violence and corruption. The family’s history is closely tied to the history of India – from its wealth as an exporter of exotic spices to its corrupt power in independent India. The family ultimately collapses in sectarian violence and expulsion back to a phony Alhambra in Spain. In this, Rushdie goes beyond the poetic to comic irony, and there’s plenty of that throughout the book, too.
Another key metaphor through the novel is the palimpsest – the underpainting that shows through when a canvas is re-used. Rushdie uses several literal palimpsests as the artists in the story paint over embarrassing or rejected earlier works. And other characters similarly cover up parts of their lives, which continue to show through in their work and which ultimately lead to their downfall. This comes back in another form in Rushdie’s repeated references to the invisible people who work behind the scenes in Bombay and make the show of wealth possible. And the novel itself is a kind of palimpsest, too, as the story of the Last Moor of Grenada keeps coming to the surface from beneath the lives of the characters. In this way, the story is a reflection of the way that contemporary life is always built on the past, and however modern we may wish to be, the past keeps coming through. This makes the bizarre story of passion and corruption in India relevant for us in Canada and elsewhere as we grapple with the present effects of our own colonial and racist history.
The story offers many parallels with modern life worldwide, and with Rushdie’s life, too. It was written while his life was under threat from the fundamentalist fatwa, and some of the extremes in the plot are driven by political and religious extremists. His one love turns out to be a death-seeking Christian, and his release from horrifying prison conditions comes at the hands of fundamentalist Hindus. It is an obsessive fundamentalist who destroys modern Bombay and the Moor’s family by blowing it all up.
The complexities of the storyline are reflected in Rushdie’s characteristically rich language of allusions, metaphors and playfulness. I’d need to know a lot more Indian history and world literature to know even half of his references, but it’s still a pleasure to read a creative writer who seems to be having such fun with his craft.
I found both the beginning and the end of the book to be less engaging than the main body that takes readers through the Moor’s life. The introduction lays out his prehistory and forebearers in colourful, but sketchy portraits. Then the final pages wrap up the story in a dash of events that undercuts their own drama and the richness of the earlier parts of the Moor’s life. This is not to say that the beginning and the end are less extravagantly written than the middle – in fact, looking at the first pages again, I love the way that the story starts at the end and then circles around to reconnect. It introduces the key themes and characters and links the narrator with both Luther and Christ at the crucifixion to let us know that we are in for a bold storyline. In spite of the extremes of the Moor’s life, however, in the end all he wants is to rest and find a peaceful end to the divisions in the world. This is a nice ending, and likely true to Rushdie’s feelings at the time, but I’m not sure it lives up to the richness of the rest of the story.
"The Moor's Last Sigh" is the story of the Zogoiby family -- ruled over by a self-involved matriarch Aurora, an artist of some importance in her corner of India. The narrator of her book is her son Moor, who tells the story of several generations of his family, who are all pretty hell-bent on destroying themselves.
I really enjoyed Rushdie's use of language- he is a clever and entertaining writer. The story is mostly compelling too. I also felt it was a little too sprawling at times and wished it would wander back on over to the point. I definitely will read more books by Rushdie, based on my experience with this one.
I always go through the same sensations when I read a Rushdie novel: my English eloquence is lifted into new realms of verbosity, O, I tell you, Sahib, the mellifluence of those orthographic tunes - carefully laid down by the master in zigzag brushstrokes - have me marvel in genuflection and bloat my lexicon in a paramount wise.
Woah, floated off for a bit there. So, yes, sensations; I learn much word. As always, sometimes the "big" words are just there to pinpoint the exact meaning for which mr. Rushdie aims. Sometimes it feels like he's showing off. I don't really care. As always, this novel is an intricate web of stories, constantly winking at each other. The prose can get dense and complex, but there's never any doubt to push through, because Rushdie is a linguistic artist. The way he plays with language is clever and refreshing and his storytelling ever colourful.
As always, Rushdie loves references. Some I ignore, some I look up because they intrigue me, some cause me to pat myself on the back for getting them, some he explores and I end up learning a lot. And I always do learn a lot, Rushdie is Wikipedia. Let him show off his knowledge, I say, let him ramble on.
So basically, I learn, I smile, I marvel, I think, I feel, I nod knowingly. I don't get through Rushdie's novels as quickly as I get through most others, but I'm pretty sure I'll keep coming back. I enjoy plummeting into his world and let him teach me, enjoy the man's nonpareil style of writing and stay a while in his madhatter universe.
I read this before going to Kerala--Cochin in 2016 and it added a dimension that was welcome.