The Moor's Last Sigh: A novel

by Salman Rushdie

Hardcover, 1996

Call number




Pantheon (1996), 435 pages


Booker Prize-winning author Salman Rushdie combines a ferociously witty family saga with a surreally imagined and sometimes blasphemous chronicle of modern India and flavors the mixture with peppery soliloquies on art, ethnicity, religious fanaticism, and the terrifying power of love. Moraes "Moor" Zogoiby, the last surviving scion of a dynasty of Cochinese spice merchants and crime lords, is also a compulsive storyteller and an exile. As he travels a route that takes him from India to Spain, he leaves behind a tale of mad passions and volcanic family hatreds, of titanic matriarchs and their mesmerized offspring, of premature deaths and curses that strike beyond the grave.

Media reviews

So, another brave and dazzling fable from Salman Rushdie, one that meets the test of civic usefulness -- broadly conceived -- as certainly as it fulfills the requirements of true art. No retort to tyranny could be more eloquent.
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'Such surreal images, combined with the author's fecund language and slashing sleight of hand make it easy, in Mr. Rushdie's words, "not to feel preached at, to revel in the carnival without listening to the barker, to dance to the music" without seeming to hear the message in the glorious song.'

User reviews

LibraryThing member Castlelass
“I found I could remember very little about the journey. Tied down in the dark, I had evidently lost all sense of direction and of the passage of time. What was this place? Who were these people? Were they truly police officers? Was I really accused of drug trafficking and now also under the
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suspicion of murder? Or had I slipped accidentally from one page, one book of life, to another? In my wretched disoriented state had my reading finger perhaps slipped from my own story onto this other outlandish incomprehensible text that had been lying, by chance, just beneath? Yes. Some such slippage had plainly occurred.”

Multi-generational family saga set in India and Spain that follows a family of Cochin spice traders, the Zogoiby-Da Gama family, from around 1900 to the 1990s. The Moor of the title is Moraes Zogoiby. The Moor’s Last Sigh is also the title of a painting that plays a key role in the narrative. It is densely written in Rushdie’s usual manic style. He is an amazing wordsmith. The storylines are never straight-forward. Rushdie regularly loops back and forth (and all around), taking detours that are interesting and occasionally puzzling. The storyline contains a mix of India’s history, the separation of India and Pakistan, and folklore mixed with magical realism. I always enjoy Rushdie’s writing style. It is erudite, clever, and multi-layered. It is not always the easiest read, but well worth the effort.
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LibraryThing member herschelian
A dense, magnificent book, packed full of images and insights. Like eating a slice of rich dark fruit cake.
LibraryThing member freddiefreddie
Madcap, heartbreaking, hilarious. Not all writers can be both great writers and great storytellers. Rushdie is one of the few.
LibraryThing member Zmrzlina
No surprises in this story... the telling has lots of twists but the turns are seen well in advance. A beautiful telling, nonetheless. Language so magical one forgives the predictable. Indian history, folklore and drama. I am not such a fool to take this fictional account as gospel, however I was
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motivated to go looking for more information about events and figures.

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!
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LibraryThing member MelmoththeLost
This has to be one of the finest novels I've ever read. Written in a dense, hypnotic interweaving of prose and prose-poetry, richly mythic and complex, this work could in some respects be described as a "family saga" were it genre fiction since it tells the story of several generations of a dynasty
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of Catholic-Jewish Cochin spice traders from the beginning of the 20th century until the early 1990s. But genre fiction it's not. It's literary with a capital L. It's also tremendously learned and filled with characters who are by turns eccentric, tragic, obsessively selfish, psychopathic, ruthless and comic who play out their lives in the decades either side of Indian independence. The novel also contains a great deal of magical realism, though this is subtle and exquisitely handled.

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.
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LibraryThing member P_S_Patrick
I bought this book after enjoying the Satanic Verses, hoping for a similar read. I wasn't disappointed, this book was perhaps a touch less complicated and ambitious, but the plot and the characters were just as well thought out, and the narrative as clever and deep, and enjoyable to read as I was
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expecting. He does the surreal very well, and this book didn't let me down in this aspect either, but it is done in a more subtle way than in the Satanic Verses for the most part. Despite this it still has the same enchanting illusory feel , it just isn't the one long hallucinogenic trip that the Satanic verses is. I would recommend this book if you enjoyed the Satanic Verses, and vice versa. They are both books I would consider re-reading in the future.
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LibraryThing member thejohnsmith
Woah! This is a really challenging read and hard to stay with. It took me an age to get through this one but it was worth it. A good story, interesting plots and sub-plots, engaging characters, etc. just pretty dense.
LibraryThing member wrmjr66
The Moor's Last Sigh is Rushdie's best book since Midnight's Children and is superior to The Ground Beneath Her Feet. Rushdie puts his spin on the multi-generational family novel. Like most such novels, it takes awhile to get the characters and families straight, but once you have the whole
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picture, you can begin to enjoy the magic that Rushdie is weaving through this genre. His first-person narrator ranges from funny to absurd to cruel, and Rushdie's playfulness with language is in full force here. As in Midnight's Children, Rushdie's characters are set in the context of India's turbulent history, and in typical Rushdie fashion, it isn't clear whether history is affecting the family or the family is molding history. The very end of the book seems a bit over-blown, but it's one of the few weaknesses in this very good novel
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LibraryThing member fiverivers
Every time I read one of Rushdie's novels I come away enlightened and amazed, and certainly reading the literary masterpiece The Moor's Last Sigh is no exception.

Perhaps one of Rushdie's more accessible novels, the story follows a more conventional narrative, although to call anything Rushdie
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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.
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LibraryThing member amerynth
I enjoyed Salman Rushdie's "The Moor's Last Sigh" -- and since it's the only Rushdie novel I've ever read it didn't suffer by comparison to his much-lauded prior book, "Midnight's Children," which apparently has a similar setting and appears to be generally preferred over this one.

"The Moor's Last
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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.
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LibraryThing member phooky
Only one book (Crime and Punishment) has ever made me miss my stop on the subway. This book, however, came very close. Littered with puns, many of them miserable groaners, it's a peppy tragedy dressed up in showy clothes. The characters neither demand nor recieve the reader's pity, and so come
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across as fairly mild, regardless of their particular depravity. The novel is a little compressed in the less-fun final acts; Rushdie can't seem to sink his teeth into the dreary stuff. But neither can I, so I didn't really mind. Loved it. Brush up on your 20th-century Indian history before you crack it, though.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
My first Rushdie - and what a book! The man gushes creativity!
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
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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
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LibraryThing member MarthaSpeirs
Not easy to read as the tricks that Rushdie provides in the language and the magical realistic form make it like a heavy but nutritious meal!
I read this before going to Kerala--Cochin in 2016 and it added a dimension that was welcome.
LibraryThing member kerns222
A shaggy, mothers-in-law tale, a mythic history of the Indian criminal-industrial underbelly, a family saga of East-West, Portuguese-Moorish infiltrations. Silly word games. A complete oeuvre of paintings brushed over (in words) by Rushdie. A final trip to Granada, Spain.
Rushdie, as usual, is too,
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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.
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LibraryThing member sprainedbrain
For me, this book is pretty much perfect. A detailed multi-generational family saga, beautifully written, with magical realism, a little humor, and a lot of intelligence. Once I started on it, I couldn’t really make time for any other books. This was my first Rushdie, and now I’m looking
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forward to reading his other books from the 1001books list.
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LibraryThing member superpeer
Preliminary: CURSES ARIEHRAIOEHDFOIEADCECEZ. First time I attempt to write a review in ages and of course it disappears, just as I had typed the last word. I'm so happy. I'll try and re-write it, but it will never ever ever be as good.


I always go through the same sensations when I read a
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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.
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LibraryThing member rab1953
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member AliceAnna
A pretty entertaining story -- some truly unlikable characters, but that was part of the point. Many of the books I read shortly after 9/11 had things that reminded me of that day. This one had Muslims, buildings being destroyed -- it's jarring. One thing that he said, that really stood out for me
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and was a good thing to hear at that time, had to do with getting past fear. "I stopped being afraid because, if my time on earth was limited, I didn't have seconds to spare for funk ... I must live until I die."
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LibraryThing member charlie68
A well written but a times bizarre story full of humor and references to modern culture the Bible and other literary works. Not for the faint of heart as you have to keep your wits about you.


Booker Prize (Longlist — 1995)
Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 1997)
Costa Book Awards (Shortlist — Novel — 1995)
Salon Book Award (Fiction — 1996)
British Book Award (Winner — Author of the Year — 1996)




0679420495 / 9780679420491
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