on July 15, 2000
In a careful and calculated manner, The Moor's Last Sigh leaps across four generations of a rich and demented Indian family, weaving an exquisitely-crafted tapestry of murder and suicide, atheism and asceticism, affection and adultery.
The first person narrator of this cynical yet mischievous book is Moraes Zogoiby, aka "Moor," who, seemingly unaffected by his asthma, spins his tale sitting atop a tombstone within sight of the Alhambra in Spain and pursued by a policeman named--like the holy city of Islam--Medina.
The centerpiece of this captivating and gorgeous novel is Moor's highly dysfunctional family, a Grand Guignol of good and evil, the deformations of the spirit wrought by love withered or love withheld and the beauty and violence of art, all representative of the tortured history of twentieth century India.
Moor, himself, is the champion of miscegenation and cultural melange, bastards and cross-breeds. Standing six and one-half feet tall, Moor has a withered right hand and, like India, he grows too fast, twice the rate of a normal human being. A thirty-six year old elderly man, still in love with a deceitful (and deceased) woman, Moor exhibits the body of a none-too-healthy seventy-two year old. His bloodline, too, is as crowded and diverse as India, herself.
Moor is the son of Abraham Zogoiby, a South Indian Jew who is probably the illegitimate descendant of Boabdil, the last Muslim Sultan of Granada and the celebrated artist, Aurora da Gama, a Christian claiming descent from the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama.
Abraham and Aurora's love first carries them to the dizzying, hyperbolic heights of fame and power, then plunges them into depths reminiscent of Lucifer's expulsion from Paradise. The blood of the Zogoiby family is indeed tainted--with murder, adultery and lies--and they, in turn, infect everyone they encounter.
A tragic figure, Moor nevertheless reveals a wickedly comic streak, as Rushdie combines high art with gaudy jags that refer to the pop cultures of India, America and Britain. Although most Rushdie readers are well-versed in multi-cultural sociology, even the most erudite may have to struggle with this book's obscure, inside jokes and satire.
Disorientation also can occur as Rushdie leaps across time zones, from present to recent past to near future to ancient history. These time shifts, however, play an integral role in explaining each of Moor's vignettes and relating their importance to the story as a whole.
Among the many dualities threading their way through The Moor's Last Sigh, is the one of good art versus bad. The book's title actually refers to two paintings entitled, The Moor's Last Sigh. One is painted by Aurora, the other by her one-time-admirer-turned-nemesis, Vasco Miranda. Aurora's work is a masterpiece, the last in a series of allegorical paintings in which her son serves as subject. It becomes the symbol that finally gives Moor the humanity he so desires. Miranda's, on the other hand, is a sentimental kitsch of Sultan Boabdil's final departure from Granada. Which one best typifies Moor? In a sense, both do.
The narrative, as can be expected from a Rushdie novel, is filmy but faultless: a magical mixture of fact and fable, fantasy and absurdity, comedy and tragedy. Despite its brilliant touches of comedy, the tone remains dark, solemn and sober. Peopled with a wide range of characters, even when parodic and allegorical, they retain their essential humanness.
In the end, Rushdie really does paint Moor as a prophet, though one whose messianic calling looks not to the arrival of God but of the better self in all of us, the reconciliation of our mongrel ethics and spirituality.
A timely and compelling novel full of contradictions and complexities, The Moor's Last Sigh begs the reader to look beyond its impeccably composed plot to the discordant richness that typifies postcolonial India today.
The prologue to this brilliant book opens "in this dark wood . . . in what ought to be the middle pathway of my life." The reference to Dante is but one of a number of literary allusions crammed into almost every densely-textured page, but it turns out to provide a key to the curious structure of this ambitious work, which is basically a violent family saga with the even more violent birth-pangs of modern India as its background.
Rather than starting in the Inferno, the book quickly rises to a sort of Paradise, and holds the reader there, enthralled, for the first two-thirds its length. Rushdie's fictional Gama-Zogoiby family mingles ancient bloodlines--Portugese, Moorish, Jewish, Hindu--and they come together in a sort of nuclear fusion. He writes in language at once false and true, brighter than Technicolor, spiced with pepper and coriander, erotic, witty, wildly inventive, and rich with more references than this reader can count.
In its last third, however, the book somewhat loses its élan. First, it plunges its eponymous hero into the Bombay underworld as a kind of living Hell. Then, in the deceptively simple writing of its final section, it uproots him from India and wafts him to a surreal vision of an Andalusian village overrun by expatriates, to end in a stateless Purgatory. It is an unusual journey for this modern Dante, but (as others have commented) it may reflect the author's own life since his exile. One feels his grief for India, his lost Eden.
Rushdie's title, besides being a multilingual pun (dernier soupir / last supper), is the name of a painting by the hero's mother, a famous artist. If the book has any one overarching theme, I would say it is about art itself: its passion, its power to simultaneously define and distort experience, and (sadly) its ultimate impermanence.
[As a footnote, it is curious that THE MOOR'S LAST SIGH joins two other novels I have read recently in having a protagonist whose life-clock runs in an unorthodox manner. The hero of Andrew Sean Greer's THE CONFESSIONS OF MAX TIVOLI lives his life backwards. The hero of Audrey Niffenegger's THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE skips around freely in time. And Rushdie's Moor, Moraes Zogoiby, ages two years for every one. Although this is the finest of the three books, I am not sure what purpose is served by the distortion of time, except that it parallels the headlong rush of Rushdie's writing, and perhaps his own tragic sense of leaving life behind faster than he can catch it up.]
on February 27, 2001
After the Midnight Children, I was a little reluctant to buy another Rushie book, fearing I will be disappointed. However, The Moor's Last Sigh is as magical as the first one I read. Rushdie once again takes the point of view of an extraordinary individual, from an extraordinary family to look at the world, India and the small circle of the narrator's family and freinds. This unusual perspective, however, instead of alianating the reader, brings him/her closer and provdes us with a clearer understanding of the grand, as well as the ordinary.
A powerful mixture of tragedy and comedy.
on August 25, 2005
This is an epic read; it is long and involved and generational. Dozens of characters weave in and out of the story as it paints a picture of their perspective on life- the one they all seem to share. It's well framed by one of them who explains to the young Moor: "D= MC squared where D is for dynasty m is for mass of relatives and C, of course is for corruption, which is the only constant in the world".
The Moor, the one from the title, seems to be the only character with perhaps a different idea of life. But as he tells the story of his life he never does much rather than navigate the waves created by those around him. His world is a duplicitous one in which those who love you hurt you the most; your biggest weight is your liberator; in which your lover might be your murderer and your best friend eventually your enslaver.
This is one of the most magical novels I've read in a while. I like that about it, a lot. In many instances Rushdie creates his own words as he creates his own worlds. The story has great moments; sort of like movies have great scenes... so many memorable lines that offer up that perspective on life.. the one practiced by many of those that surround the Last Moor throughout his life. I'll use those to wrap this up. I think it gives a good idea of the mood of the book (which I think is the point of the book... the actual story is too intertwined and loosely held together to explain).
"Abraham Zoigby was assaulted by fear... a sudden terrible apprehension that the ugliness of life might defeat its beauty; that love did not make lovers invulnerable".....
"Rejoice in what gives you grief. That which you would flee, turn and run towards it with all your heart. Only by becoming your misfortune will you harness it."......"What matters most: Love or truth?"......"The past and the future is where we spend most of our lives. In fact what you are going through in this small microcosm of ours is the disorienting feeling of having stepped for a few hours into the present"....."How to forgive the world for its beauty, which merely disguises its ugliness; for its gentleness, which merely cloaks its cruelty; for its illusion of continuity, seamlessly, as the night follows the day, so to speak- whereas in reality life is a series of brutal raptures, falling upon your defenseless hands, like the blows of a woodman's axe"?
on October 20, 2003
"The Moor's Last Sigh" begins promisingly set in the rich cultural melting pot, that was Portugese India. Rushdie has made it a habit to analyse India in bits and pieces, one at a time with each novel. It is now the turn of the Malabar and one of the earliest roots of colonial India, that has come to deserve his attention. The focal point of the story is Moraes Zogoiby, the nodal leaf of the da Gama-Zogoiby family tree, with enough colours in his blood to make a rainbow pale in contrast. It seems to be a faithful allusion to India's "royal family apparent" - the Nehru-Gandhi clan, members of whom are frequently and rather brusquely alluded to. Getting through the first 150 pages is a joy ride. For those who perceive the intricacies of Indian history, the allusions are stark and vivid.
As any experienced reader might expect, Rushdie chips in with his now-branded magic realism with references to the supernatural, the unknown, the ambiguous, the pathetic fallacies, and the coincidences with his bewitching word play.The story meanders, twists, turns and sometimes cascades in typical Rushdie style, as the scene cuts to Cochin, then to Bombay (Rushdie's Oedipus Complex??) and finally to Andalusia. You meet more startling characters, expose more personalities, descend to the dark dungeons of humanity, and gain an insight into the secretive, alternative world that deceives and betrays the posh, exterior facade. Again, characteristic to Rushdie is the hapless narrator, the insecure, victimised, ugly, yet omniscient incarnate who speaks to you in the first person.
Rarely, would you feel a Rushdian character very simple to comprehend. Uma Saraswati, Moraes's lover, Abraham Zogoiby, his father, Aurora, his mother, his sisters, his grand-parents, his grand-uncles - all intricately woven and presented in a picture so complex that you feel that years of translucent history cannot have mystified simple lives so much. Rushdie's genius in exploring human values and emotions is evident and only to be expected. But, as you go panting and wanting more and more of it, the denouement comes too quickly and too abruptly. The demystification that you wait for so long, never takes off. Rushdie takes the easier route to deal with the problem - by destruction and it is this tried and tested Bollywood formula that wrecks the boat. It was my experience of "a burning head and a parched tongue." If this is what Rushdie wanted you to know, well, that is another twist, but a very unconvincing one. Maybe the sea hath dried up?
That being my initial peeve with the work, I realised later that this is not his only pitfall. Rushdie, with this novel might stand accused (not without reason) of being stereotypic. You come across too many things (sometimes one per page) that remind you of an earlier occurence somewhere in another of his works. The techniques and formulae are pretty old. Self-plagiariasm is an excuse that a creator of Rushdie's stature cannot afford with his readers. This was the fourth work of Rushdie I set my hands on, having already read "The Midnight's Children","Haroun and The sea of stories" and "The Ground beneath her feet". Having thorughly enjoyed the other three, I felt Rushdie flatters to deceive in this one.
Beginners to Rushdie - this is one book you can afford to skip. Old wines are in the cellar. Check them out first.
on July 10, 2000
Mr. Rushdie is very emphatic through the novel about the wickedness off all its characters, and how the concept of morality and respect are somehow alien to all of them. However, it is very difficult to feel any kind of animosity towards those beings, or to internalize their anguish, because all their actions are simultaneously justified so you have the feeling that eventhough the events of the novel are dramatic, in the end actions do not matter, because those who suffer the consequences are not worthy of any pity.
I guess that the book also demands a great knowledge of Indian XX century history, particularly after its independence, in order to capture and enjoy the irony and sort of black humor that runs parallel with the Zogoisby's family saga.
Finally, it is advisable to read this book with a good English dictionary by your side, even your native language is English ,because the author will demand form the reader to be immersed in the story as well as its idiom.
on May 6, 2007
THE MOOR'S LAST SIGH is the last confession of Moraes "Moor" Zogoiby, the last of a long line of sinners and saints. The title refers to both Moor's final confession and to a painting of the same name, created by Moor's mother, Aurora. Moor tells of the feuds of grandparents and great-grandparents, of the "pepper love" of his parents and the eventual breakdown of their marriage, and of his own struggles with love and with his darker, more violent side.
This is a novel of paradise and of hell. Moor's childhood home is associated with paradise, as is his mother, Aurora, an artist full of fantastical visions. Moor's father and his business are associated with hell. Abraham Zogoiby is, on the surface, a respectable businessman, but his real fortune comes from drugs and sex trafficking. In THE MOOR'S LAST SIGH, paradise is always an illusion: The Zogoiby home proves to be full of serpents and even Aurora's artistic vision becomes dark and morbid as she grows older. Hell is always real, and its inhabitants are invisible, powerless. Abraham's empire is a place where "an invisible reality moved phantomwise beneath a visible fiction.*"
Rushdie's writing style is difficult to pinpoint. During the first few chapters, dealing with Moor's great-grandparents and grandparents, I was reminded of the prose of Gabriel Garcia Marquez: lyrical, complex, and a bit exotic. I later changed my mind, finding The Moor's Last Sigh to be more epic than the work of Marquez. It seems a bit like an agnostic Bible (filled with feuding siblings, serpentine characters, family blessings, family curses, paradise, and condemnation) crossed with a Greek tragedy (characters larger than life, full of passion, and headed towards an unstoppable doom). While the span of the novel extends from India's colonial days to the nineteen-nineties and historical events, movements, and ideologies are woven into the story, The Moor's Last Sigh has a timeless feel to it.
THE MOOR'S LAST SIGH is beautiful, readable, and frequently funny. Its only flaw is the plot is, at times, too intricate, too tangled, making it easy for readers to confuse/forget the earlier events of the novel.
on January 27, 2003
I have read other reviews of this same novel that take the slant of comparing situations in the novel to occurances in Rushdie's life, actual historical events in India...his work is called allegorical, symbolic...etc. And while I cannot dispute this, as I know precious little of India's history, and less about Rushdie himself, save for the SATANIC VERSES controversy...I offer a review as one who was purely entertained by my first indulgence of this wonderful writer.
Moraes Zagoiby traces his family roots back to the rise of the da Gama family in the spice trade. From the great aunt abandoned on her wedding night by a husband fleeing in her gown to meet his male lover for a moonlight sail...to the bitter rivalry of two feuding clans employed in the family business that end up in tragedy; to the great uncle who disappears with the ocean current one dark night; to young Aurora da Gama, who marries a foreman in the family business and eventually delivers Moor into the world, born with a club right hand, and a body that ages at twice the normal rate.
No matter how colorful his lineage, Moor's own story is as lively and entertaining as that of his family as he alternately blesses and curses his 'afflictions'; loses his heart on more than one occasion, and eventually strives to make a name for himself when the family banishes him.
Rushdie's wry, double-entendre brand of humor brought too many smiles to my face to count, or give the details of. His descriptive powers are almost lyrical at times, his wit both scathing and coy, and his emotions real enough to penetrate the hearts of all. The Moor endears, enrages, and enlightens all in the fictional world he inhabits, and all those drawn into it by reading Rushdie's prose.
Thankfully there are many other Rushdie novels to indulge in, and I am happy to have discovered a 'new' writer to add to my bookshelves.
on February 9, 2001
I picked up Rushdie's the Moor's Last Sigh, before I headed to India this last winter. I thought it would be a perfect introduction to Kerala...and the city of Cochin. When I was reading the tale, I already felt immersed in the tropical, sultry atmosphere of Cochin. Rushdie's writing style is brilliant; he has a style entirely unto himself. The novel is absolutely sweeping in breadth, he just lifts you into another world. I did not want to put the book down, but I had to once in a while to absorb the intense imagery and mind-blowing language. He has Cochin down to the T. While I was walking around that small fishing town, I suddenly recognzied all the familiar locales he wrote of...from the chinese fish nets, St. Francis Church, the Synagogue..the lake front... It's a fantastic & captivating escape from the grind of our daily routines. Rushdie is a an artiste with words.
on December 17, 2000
I have read both 'Satanic Verses' and 'Midnight's Children in the past, adoring and recommending both to a host of friends and relatives. Rushdie has a way with words, and capturing the attention of the reader with his blend of magic realism and poetry.
So it was with this high opinion that I began one of his latest and less contriversal novels, and my soaring opinion of the man and his beautiful books only began to rise once I had completed this novel. There is no greater modern writer than Rushdie, perhaps with the exception of the magic realism master Marquez. It is evident in Rushdie's books that he feeds off Marquez, and he undoubtedly does so with his own fine balance of wit, humility and intellect, and this book is the finest example of Rushdie's continuing brillance against adversity and scrunity.
Rushdie indeed deserved the award for 'Booker of Bookers', however I wonder whether a better choice would have been the 'Moor's Last Sigh', which matches, if not overtakes 'Midnight's Children' in terms of enjoyment and brillance.
Wonderful, full and rich by an author who continues to astonish me and so many others.