The Moor's Last Sigh Rushdie, Salman
The Moor's Last Sigh Salman Rushdie
Indian-born English novelist, critic, and nonfiction writer.
The following entry provides analysis and criticism of The Moor's Last Sigh. For further information on Rushdie's life and career, see CLC, Volumes 23, 31, and 55.
Rushdie is best known as the author of The Satanic Verses (1988), the book condemned by many Muslims as an insult to their religion. Former Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini called for the execution of Rushdie and his publisher, forcing the author into hiding from bounty hunters for almost a decade until the publication of The Moor's Last Sigh (1995). With this latest work, Rushdie chose to return to limited public exposure, and some critics have found evidence in the book to suggest that Rushdie has reconciled himself to life under threat of death.
Plot and Major Characters
The Moor of the title is Moraes "Moor" Zogoiby, cursed with a "double-quick" life: his mother, after wishing in a moment of frustration for a child who would grow up quickly, gives birth to him four and a half months after his conception, and he continues to age at twice the normal rate. Moraes's mother, Aurora da Gama, is a famous artist and his father, twenty years older than his mother, is a former clerk in her family's spice business who finds more lucrative employment in smuggling and drug trafficking. Moraes becomes entangled in rivalries between his parents and their competitors, becoming a prisoner of an artist jealous of his mother who allows him to live as long as he writes his life story. Throughout the story Rushdie relates the history of the family as far back as explorer Vasco da Gama, discoverer of India, and draws parallels with the family's circumstances in modern time. The "Moor's last sigh" of the title has a number of explanations, one being that it is the title of a portrait of Moraes, the last his mother painted before her death.
As is often the case with Rushdie's work, reviewers found a number of overlapping and intermingled themes within The Moor's Last Sigh, many concerning the state of India and its people. Most critics described the story as extremely complex, filled with symbolism, elements of magic realism, and layer upon layer of meaning. In attempting to name one main theme, however, most found it to be the history of India up to the present day mirrored by the history of one powerful, fictitious family. James Bowman described The Moor's Last Sigh as "a story of enormous complexity about the rise and fall of a part-Jewish, part-Christian dynasty of Indian merchants from the early years of this century down to the present." Although Moraes narrates the story, many reviewers contended that Aurora da Gama is actually the main character of the story, representing not only Moraes's mother but Mother India as well.
Much of the critical attention surrounding The Moor's Last Sigh centered on the importance of the book as a sign of Rushdie's reemergence as an active literary figure. Although still cautious about the fatwa, or death sentence, imposed upon him for The Satanic Verses, Rushdie made some public appearances in support of his new novel. Several critics analyzed The Moor's Last Sigh for signs of the fatwa's effect on Rushdie's writing style or ability, pointing to passages in the new book that seem to reveal the author's state of mind throughout his exile. Critics also scrutinized the new work for material that could rekindle the controversy of The Satanic Verses. While some predicted that the work would offend Hindus as The Satanic Verses offended Muslims, most described The Moor's Last Sigh as containing some contentious portions but nothing to rival that of its predecessor. Several reviewers also noted, however, that while The Moor's Last Sigh does not equal The Satanic Verses in scandalous content, neither does it demonstrate meekness or submission on the part of the author. In comparing The Moor's Last Sigh with Rushdie's body of work, critics remarked on his continuing devotion to lavish but often unflattering descriptions of India, sweeping historical story lines, and crowds of characters whose comings and goings within the story cannot be predicted by the conventions of modern fiction writing. "Filled with puns and verbal games, buffoonery and scenes of slapstick comedy," The Moor's Last Sigh "proves that Rushdie is one of the most brilliant magicians of the English language writing now," Orhan Pamuk commented. Many critics also pointed to the author's way of delivering biting criticism veiled in metaphor or stories with the story, Rushdie trademarks again in evidence in The Moor's Last Sigh, as signs that he has rebounded from his ordeal.
SOURCE: "City of Mongrel Joy," in New Statesman & Society, Vol. 8, No. 369, September, 1995, pp. 39-40.
[In the following review, Hussein relates the plot of The Moor's Last Sigh.]
Moraes Zogoiby, nicknamed Moor—the half-Jewish, half-Christian narrator of The Moor's Last Sigh—is on his way to self-exile in Spain. At the conclusion of a harrowing portrayal of the events that lead up to his city's moral and physical devastation, he muses: "There was nothing holding me to Bombay anymore. It was no longer my Bombay, no longer special, no longer the city of mixed-up, mongrel joy."
For the city of Bombay—in reality, as in Salman Rushdie's stunningly accurate dark recreation in his latest and possibly finest novel—has fallen prey to violence, corruption and the likes of the novel's villainous Raman Fielding (nicknamed Mainduck, or frog).
Fielding is the leader of a party of chauvinists and thugs who masquerade as the religious and righteous, preach the Rule of Ram and advocate an ethnically cleansed Mahrashtrian capital. He is a twin soul of the real-life demagogue Bal Thackeray, whose pseudo-ideologies, proclaimed by his Shiv Sena party, Fielding shares. And Rushdie mischievously names him, like Thackeray, after one of English literatures's founding fathers.
Moor, who miraculously ages twice as fast as his contemporaries and bears a...
(The entire section is 1180 words.)
SOURCE: "Shenanigans," in London Review of Books, Vol. 17, No. 17, September 7, 1995, pp. 3, 5.
[In the following review, Wood presents an in-depth analysis of Rushdie's career, culminating with The Moor's Last Sigh.]
The Moor's last sigh is several things, both inside and outside Salman Rushdie's sprawling new novel. It is the defeated farewell of the last Moorish ruler in Spain, the Sultan Boabdil leaving his beloved Granada in 1492, a year also known for other travels. It is Othello's last gasp of jealousy and violence. It is, in the novel, the name of two paintings depicting Boabdil's departure; and it is what the novel itself becomes, the long, breathless, terminal narration of the asthmatic Moraes Zogoiby, alias 'Moor'. Old Moore's Almanac flickers somewhere here ('Old Moor will sigh no more'), as does Luis Buñuel's dernier soupir (which appears as the Ultimo Suspiro petrol station). Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart were wrong, we learn, to think that a sigh is just a sigh: a sigh could be almost anything, and the name Zogoiby is a version of the Arabic elzogoybi, 'the unlucky one', the sobriquet traditionally attached to Boabdil.
Boabdil is elegiac shorthand for a delicate, plural civilisation unable to defend itself against single-mindedreligion; or rather against the single-minded political use of religion: the spirit of the Catholic Spanish kings of the...
(The entire section is 3073 words.)
SOURCE: "Salaam Bombay!," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4823, September 9, 1995, p. 3.
[In the following review, Pamuk considers Rushdie's treatment of his homeland in his fiction, most recently in The Moor's Last Sigh.]
Peppered with politics and betrayal, sugared with art and love, well spiced with pimps, beauty queens, gangsters, freaks, fanatics and lunatics, The Moor's Last Sigh is a grand family chronicle of the passionate love and business affairs of four generations of a grotesque and rich Indian family. This book, in its scope, its ambition, and its magic, most resembles Midnight's Children, the best of Salman Rushdie's previous novels. The fact that The Moor's Last Sigh is a lesser performance is nothing to do with Rushdie's creative powers as a verbal illusionist. Filled with puns and verbal games, buffoonery and scenes of slapstick comedy, it proves that Rushdie is one of the most brilliant magicians of the English language writing now. The problem, however, is that Salman the narrator, the verbal innovator, too often rushes to offer help, to save the day when Salman the fabulator, like his hero Moraes Zogoiby, loses his breath.
The Moor's Last Sigh is an incestuous family saga, and like two other great incestuous family sagas before it—Nabokov's Ada (which is also filled with bilingual puns and arabesques of verbal games) and...
(The entire section is 2362 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Moor's Last Sigh, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 242, No. 40, October 2, 1995, p. 52.
[Below, the critic offers a positive assessment of The Moor's Last Sigh.]
Not since Midnight's Children has Rushdie produced such a dazzling novel. Nor has he curbed his urgent indignation or muffled his satiric tongue. In a spirited story related at a breakneck pace and crammed full of melodrama, slapstick, supple wordplay and literary allusions, Rushdie has again fashioned a biting parable of modern India. Telling his story "with death at my heels," the eponymous narrator relates the saga of a family whose religious, political and cultural differences replicate the fault lines by which India is riven. The Moor tells of "family rifts and premature deaths and thwarted loves and mad passions and weak chests and power and money and … the seductions and mysteries of art." He speculates on the duality of all things, the conflicting impulses of human nature and the clash between appearance and reality. Like the tale itself, the title has multiple layers of meaning. "The Moor's Last Sigh" refers to two paintings, one a masterpiece by the narrating Moor's mother, Aurora, the other a trashy work by her onetime protégé and lover, and later implacable enemy, Vasco Miranda, who becomes the Moor's nemesis.
The Moor was thus nicknamed at birth, the youngest child of Aurora, the...
(The entire section is 518 words.)
SOURCE: "Tower of Babble," in Maclean's, Vol. 108, No. 41, October 9, 1995, p. 85.
[In the following negative review of The Moor's Last Sigh, Bemrose remarks that "most of the novel reads like the vision of a harried mind that has lost touch with the pace and amplitude of ordinary life."]
It would seem that Salman Rushdie simply does not know how to play it safe. The Anglo-Indian novelist has been in hiding in Britain for six years, ever since Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned him to death for alleged anti-Muslim sentiments in his 1989 novel, The Satanic Verses. Now, his new novel, The Moor's Last Sigh—nominated for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize last week—has angered many Hindus. The Indian distributor of the book has refused to release it in Bombay, where a radical Hindu political party, Shiv Sena, has deemed it offensive. The trouble stems from a character in the novel called Raman Fielding, who apparently satirizes Shiv Sena's leader, Bal Thackeray. His party has been accused of fomenting conflict between Bombay's Muslims and Hindus, which has killed more than 800 people since 1992. Rushdie has recreated that religious strife in his novel, suggesting that one of its main causes is Fielding's hate campaign against Muslim culture. The rest of the subcontinent, however, seems to be taking Rushdie's novel in stride: it has been released in other Indian cities...
(The entire section is 803 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Moor's Last Sigh, in Booklist, Vol. 92, No. 5, November 1, 1995, p. 435.
[In the following review, Hooper describes The Moor's Last Sigh as "a marvelously wrought novel, guaranteed to entrance."]
Rushdie's first novel since the fateful Satanic Verses (1989) is about hybridization of cultures, and itself seems a hybrid between William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County novels and The Thousand and One Nights. This four-generational family saga takes place in Rushdie's native southern India and witnesses the decline of a spice-trading dynasty, a century-long drama of "family rifts and premature deaths and thwarted loves and mad passions and weak chests and power and money and the even more morally dubious seductions and mysteries of art." The fanciful tale is related by the last of the exhausted family line, Moraes Zogoiby, son of a pair of Indians of far different backgrounds and persuasions, his father Jewish and a Mob leader in Bombay, his mother Catholic and celebrated for her artistry. The "Moor," as he is called, was born physically precocious; in fact, he ages at twice the normal rate. The plot does not unfold—it floods like a river gone over its banks, exploding with incredible events and larger-than-life characters, and to be carried along is to ride beautiful prose through the colliding and conjoining of races and religions that have gone into the...
(The entire section is 238 words.)
SOURCE: "Another Rushdie Novel, Another Bitter Epilogue," in The New York Times, December 2, 1995.
[In the following essay, Burns describes reaction in India to The Moor's Last Sigh.]
For Anuj Malhotra, a bookseller in this capital's affluent Khan Market district, the publication here this summer of Salman Rushdie's latest novel, The Moor's Last Sigh, promised to be the literary event of the year.
Mr. Rushdie has been a best seller in India, where he was born and lived until his family left Bombay for England 30 years ago. With his sales running into tens of thousands of copies, he has held his own with writers of more obviously popular genres like Jackie Collins, Barbara Taylor Bradford and India's own novelist of sex and romance, Shobha De.
Expectations were higher than ever for the new Rushdie book, which chronicles the history of an Indian family over several generations. Indian critics have seen it as Mr. Rushdie's attempt to capture the flavor of contemporary India from the distance imposed on him by his life in hiding since 1989, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran said he should be killed for blaspheming Islam in his novel Satanic Verses.
But four months after Mr. Malhotra received his first and only allotment of The Moor's Last Sigh and quickly sold out all 100 hardback copies, he is a frustrated man. Almost every...
(The entire section is 970 words.)
SOURCE: "Rushdie on India: Serious, Crammed Yet Light," in The New York Times, December 28, 1995, pp. C13, C20.
[In the following review, Kakutani describes the ways in which the story and characters of The Moor's Last Sigh relate the author's own views of his native country.]
In Salman Rushdie's remarkable new novel, the narrator describes the astonishing paintings created by his mother: paintings teeming with the life of Bombay's streets, paintings that capture "the face-slapping quarrels of naked children at a tenement standpipe," "the elated tension of the striking sailors at the gates to the naval yards" and the "shipwrecked arrogance of the English officers from whom power was ebbing like the waves," paintings layered upon older paintings and concealing untold secrets of the past.
Behind all this, the narrator observes, was his mother's "sense of the inadequacy of the world, of its failure to live up to her expectations, so that her own disappointment with reality, her anger at its wrongness, mirrored her subjects, and made her sketches not merely reportorial but personal, with a violent, breakneck passion of line that had the force of a physical assault."
This description, of course, also applies perfectly to Mr. Rushdie's own fierce, phantasmagorical writing, especially as practiced in The Moor's Last Sigh, a huge, sprawling exuberant novel....
(The entire section is 1195 words.)
SOURCE: "Absolutely Fabulist," in National Review, Vol. XLVII, No. 25, December 31, 1995, pp. 46-7.
[In the following mixed review, Bowman asserts that The Moor's Last Sigh reads as if the author wrote it simply to prove that he could, and predicts that the book will offend Hindus as The Satanic Verses offended Muslims.]
Salman Rushdie's first novel since The Satanic Verses reveals once again that he is a writer with an astounding fertility of imagination. But it is hard not to come away with the sense that all this story-telling and linguistic invention is only for showing off and that Rushdie has written the book in order to demonstrate that he can write it. His subject, in the end, is his own cleverness, and the one illusion he has no interest in creating is the illusion of reality. Back in the Middle Ages, a fabulist like him would have gone to considerable lengths to convince us that the marvelous tales he was about to relate were true by citing some well-respected auctor as their source. Rushdie, by contrast, glories in the fact that he made it all up himself. If you were to start to believe that it was real, you might get into trouble.
And, in fact, he has got into trouble—big trouble—from religious people. First the Ayatollah. Now, with The Moor's Last Sigh, he seems to have put his books and perhaps himself in danger again by offending a...
(The entire section is 1084 words.)
SOURCE: "They Came for the Hot Stuff," in Nation, Vol. 262, No. 1, January 1, 1996, pp. 25-7.
[Below, Hagedorn offers a positive review of The Moor's Last Sigh.]
I don't review books as a rule, but could not resist the opportunity to speak up for Salman Rushdie's astonishing new work. Midnight's Children opened up the world for me as a first-time novelist struggling to find my way. How to tell the story of a young postcolonial nation like the Philippines? How to capture its chaos, humor and beauty? How to convey the heat and music of its many languages, and the wit and innovations of its hybrid English? How to portray the complex, unpredictable nature of its people? How to be fearless? Rushdie, the passionate subversive obsessed with history, language and moral ambiguity, the grand and mythic storyteller, showed me how.
The Moor's Last Sigh is Rushdie's first novel in seven years. The intricate, gorgeous tapestry of a plot takes off on a tragic riff in 1492 when the Arab sultan Boabdil gives up his beloved Alhambra to Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic monarchs of Spain. Observed by none other than a contemptuous Christopher Columbus, Boabdil's humiliating surrender puts an end to centuries of Moorish rule in Europe. In one of the novel's many haunting passages, the grieving Boabdil rides off into exile, turning "to look for one last time upon his loss, upon the palace...
(The entire section is 1810 words.)
SOURCE: "Where the Wonders Never Cease," in Book World—The Washington Post, January 7, 1996, pp. 1-2.
[In the following review, Dirda finds The Moor's Last Sigh further evidence of his contention that Rushdie is among the world's greatest writers.]
Over the past several years Salman Rushdie has become, to his sorrow, such a symbolic figure that it is easy to lose sight of the most important fact about him: He really is one of the world's great writers. One need only read the first sentence of this wondrous new novel—a book comparable, it seems to me, to Robertson Davies' masterpiece, What's Bred in the Bone, even, at times, to Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude—to feel its irresistible narrative pace, its openly melodramatic panache:
"I have lost count of the days that have passed since I fled the horrors of Vasco Miranda's mad fortress in the Andalusian mountain-village of Benengeli; ran from death under cover of darkness and left a message nailed to the door."
Only those without a smidgen of Gothic romance in their souls could possibly set down The Moor's Last Sigh at this point. Or at any other point, for that matter. "Just a few more pages," you will think to yourself at 2 a.m., or as your Metro stop whizzes by. Throughout his book Rushdie sustains an altogether breathtaking riot of...
(The entire section is 1445 words.)
SOURCE: "English as a Wicked Weapon," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 7, 1996, pp. 3, 13.
[Below, Eder presents a mixed review of The Moor's Last Sigh.]
Why is Moraes Zogoiby, disinherited scion of twin artistic and financial dynasties in Bombay, cowering in a graveyard across from Granada's Alhambra, having escaped from a mad compatriot intent on murdering him? Or, to transmute fiction back into reality, why is Salman Rushdie, twin scion of literature and of a wealthy Indian Muslim family, hiding from a different form of coreligionary murderousness (except when he ventures out for a reception or a ceremony)?
The Moor's Last Sigh is not Rushdie's first fictional reflection on the extremist Muslim death sentence imposed on him for The Satanic Verses. His first effort was a children's tale, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a whimsical allegory in which good adventures magically defeat evil necromancers. No such victory takes place in the painful chaos of his new full-length novel. There is whimsy in it—Rushdie cannot bare his teeth without grinning to mock the gesture—but it is mainly at the level of language.
Rushdie is wickedly adept at English: It is his tongue of upbringing and art, and yet he employs it as if it oppressed him. Language is power; English was the language of his forebears' colonizers. Today, in the Indian subcontinent...
(The entire section is 1290 words.)
SOURCE: "The Prisoner in the Tower," in Newsweek, Vol. CXXVII, No. 2, January 8, 1996, p. 70.
[In the following review, the critic describes The Moor's Last Sigh as Rushdie's "passionate, often furious love letter to the country of his birth."]
There's an unusually restrained, contemplative episode toward the end of Salman Rushdie's flamboyant new novel, The Moor's Last Sigh, when the narrator finds himself locked up in a tower by a madman intent on murder. The narrator, known as Moor, is helpless. Then a kind of hope begins to stir, thanks to the woman he meets there—a fellow prisoner who is Japanese by birth. "Her name was a miracle of vowels. Aoi Uë: the five enabling sounds of language, thus grouped ('ow-ee oo-ay'), constructed her." By virtue of her quiet strength, "her formality, her precision," this woman becomes his life support and a fount of discipline. Locked up with the source of language, that is, he writes; and writing saves his life.
Moor is a protean figure in this novel: sometimes he's a lost soul wandering through what might be Dante's "Inferno"; sometimes he's Dorothy in a very unmerry land of Oz; sometimes he's Everyman. But in episodes like the one in the tower, we seem to hear the author himself speaking. It's now almost seven years since his last novel, The Satanic Verses, so infuriated fundamentalist Muslims that the Ayatollah Khomeini...
(The entire section is 783 words.)
SOURCE: "For Love of Mother," in The Boston Globe, January 14, 1996, p. B43.
[In the following review, Caldwell describes The Moor's Last Sigh as "a parable of modern India."]
In Salman Rushdie's vast, torrential ode to modern India, the streets are filled with the smells of history: spices and blood and yesterday's tragedies, mingled with the sweet promise of tomorrow's lies. The Moor's Last Sigh is a prodigiously realized, sometimes exhausting novel, cloaked in an elegant satire that barely masks the moral conviction at its center. Its story roams from Bombay to Spain over most of the 20th century, and though its panoply of characters focuses chiefly upon four generations of one Jewish-Christian family, its real protagonist is Mother India. Wrought with passion and anger and a fierce lampoonery that only history's agonies can evoke, The Moor's Last Sigh trains its rapid-fire intelligence on anything that moves.
Conceived with the same blast of momentum that drove Rushdie's 1982 novel, Midnight's Children, this epochal work has as its narrator Moor (christened Moraes) Zogoiby—the only son of Aurora and Abraham, a man born with a marked right hand and the biological condition of premature aging, or living his life on double time. (His mother's pregnancy was complete at 4 1/2 months; at 30, he has the body and fatigue of a 60-year-old.) Oedipal subject of...
(The entire section is 1343 words.)
SOURCE: "Doomed in Bombay," in The New York Times Book Review, January 14, 1996, p. 7.
[In the following review, Rush praises The Moor's Last Sigh as an apt response to the tyrannical reaction to The Satanic Verses.]
Salman Rushdie's new novel, his first since the infamous fatwa issued by the Iranian Government in 1989 as punishment for putatively blasphemous passages in his satire The Satanic Verses, comes heavily attended by certain inevitable questions. How is Mr. Rushdie holding up after six years in hiding? What kind of story is the world's most famous living author, in this extraordinary situation, going to tell us and, of course, himself? Is this another book that will give offense, and to whom? Will this book comment, directly or otherwise, on the dogma-driven expansion of censorship and persecution affecting writers in so many parts of the world? It's only when we've worked through this vanguard of questions that we're free to ask what we can take from this novel, as opposed to all the novels it competes with—serious novels whose ambitions are to show us what we urgently need to know or feel in this threatening moment, when alarms and grim forewarnings crowd in on us, making so many of our innocent pastimes feel difficult to justify, fiction reading itself not excepted.
It turns out that the topical questions are easily answered; and it turns out, also, that...
(The entire section is 1564 words.)
SOURCE: "Writing to Save His Life," in Time, Vol. 147, No. 3, January 15, 1996, pp. 70-1.
[In the following review, Gray finds The Moor's Last Sigh's "leisurely wordiness is a mark of Rushdie's mastery."]
Near the end of The Moor's Last Sigh, a madman holds the novel's narrator, Moraes Zogoiby, prisoner. The captor, an old but rejected friend of Zogoiby's late, flamboyant mother, demands a history of her family before killing its teller. "He had made a Scheherazade of me," Moraes writes. "As long as my tale held his interest he would let me live."
Coming from Salman Rushdie, the notion of a man writing under a death sentence takes on a certain poignance. And the temptation exists, since he is the West's most prominent enforced recluse, to read everything he has written since the Ayatullah Khomeini's infamous fatwa in 1988 as a comment on his personal dilemma. But The Moor's Last Sigh—Rushdie's first novel since The Satanic Verses—should not be taken only, or even principally, as veiled autobiography. It is much too teeming and turbulent, too crammed with history and dreams, to fit into any imaginable category, except that of the magically comic and sad.
The story that Moraes—nicknamedthe Moor by his parents—most urgently wants to tell is how his "happy childhood in Paradise" ended in a bitter exile decreed by his mother Aurora...
(The entire section is 876 words.)
SOURCE: "Rushdie: Caught on the Fly," in Time, Vol. 147, No. 3, January 15, 1996, p. 70.
[In the following essay, based on an interview with the author, Gray discusses the controversial nature of Rushdie's writing.]
"My last novel, to put it mildly, divided its readers," says Salman Rushdie. That is putting it mildly indeed: his last novel was The Satanic Verses, which drew him the enmity of much of the Islamic world seven years ago. Since then things have changed, Rushdie hopes, for the better (though he is still subject to Ayatullah Knomeini's death sentence). On the phone from Australia, Rushdie talks enthusiastically of the "wonderful reception" his new book, The Moor's Last Sigh, has already received in far-flung swatches of the globe, many of which he has openly visited. "I've been in, I think, 11 countries other than England since September, including stops across Europe, Latin America and Australia. This book coming out is a sign of my coming out."
He still cannot visit his native India because his presence might set off riots. He says he is "rather delighted" by the response to his new novel by Indian readers. Though the book has largely been embargoed there, a number of government officials have requested and received signed copies.
Why has his fiction proved so incendiary? "I make public fictions as well as private ones. When you give your...
(The entire section is 271 words.)
SOURCE: "Sentenced to Death but Recalled to Life," in The New York Times, January 17, 1996, pp. C1-2.
[In the following essay, based on an interview with the author, Barnton describes Rushdie's life since the fatwa.]
London, Jan. 11—Having lunch with Salman Rushdie means being prepared for the unexpected. First, there's the caller from Scotland Yard who arranges the meeting but refuses to mention the author by name, simply instructing you to bring a copy of The New York Times to a rendezvous in the lobby of a London hotel.
Next, there's the bodyguard who checks your identification and walks you over to a second hotel and up a back staircase, where a secret knock admits you to a suite guarded by three plainclothes policemen. Finally, there is the meeting with the author. Together, the author, the bodyguard and the reporter descend for the triumphant entry into the hotel dining room at its busiest hour.
But there is a snag. The author is not wearing a necktie. And he cannot be admitted without one.
"It's been a long time since anything like this has happened to me." Mr. Rushdie says, as he, the bodyguard and the reporter all obediently trail along behind the headwaiter to the cloakroom for a spare tie. Mr. Rushdie indeed seems to relish this touch of quotidian real-life hassle.
"The sound bite on me is that I am incredibly...
(The entire section is 1538 words.)
SOURCE: "Salman Rushdie, Out and About," in Washington Post, January 20, 1996, p. C1.
[In the following review, discusses Rushdie's public promotion of The Moor's Last Sigh.]
Salman Rushdie was in town this week to promote his new novel, The Moor's Last Sigh, and promote it he did. He appeared on the Diane Rehm radio talk show and made a much-publicized appearance at the National Press Club and answered questions and signed books and dined with the Washington literati.
He seemed to enjoy the attention and adulation immensely. He is a polite, but immodest, man. He does not hesitate to speak of himself and James Joyce or Marcel Proust in the same sentence.
Critics are lining up to praise him. A "wonderstruck" reviewer in The Washington Post proclaimed Rushdie "one of the world's great writers" and a writer in the New York Times said the novel, "as a work of literary art, is a triumph…."
Rushdie, too, talks of the book in grandiose terms. Ultimately, he says, the act of creation must take precedence over any other thing—politics, marriage, travel or friends—in the artist's life.
"A book only gets written when you put it first," he says, tapping stubby fingers on a laminated desktop at the WAMU studio on Brandywine Street NW. Rushdie is wearing a black collarless shirt and a Y-neck sweater that's the same shade of gray as...
(The entire section is 1036 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Moor's Last Sigh, in The Atlanta Journal/Constitution, January 21, 1996, p. L11.
[In the following review, Ryan describes The Moor's Last Sigh as "an extraordinary act of the imagination."]
In 1989, Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses earned its author a fatwa, a death decree, declared by the Ayatollah Khomeini because of the book's alleged blasphemy of Islam. Among the ironies was the clear fact that The Satanic Verses was far from being Rushdie's best or most persuasive work. Since then, while living in hiding (and puckishly popping up in all sorts of places, including David Letterman's TV show), Rushdie has published short fiction, book reviews and essays, but The Moor's Last Sigh is his first full-fledged novel since The Satanic Verses, and it is as good as—maybe better than—his earlier best work, Midnight's Children.
In that 1990 novel, Rushdie—who was born in Bombay in 1947—took all of Indian history and life as his material. "There are so many stories to tell," he wrote at the beginning of the novel, "too many, such an excess of intertwined lives events miracles places rumors, so dense a commingling of the improbable and the mundane!" In this latest novel, his setting is specifically Bombay, which the narrator describes as "central; all rivers flowed into its human sea. It was an ocean of...
(The entire section is 942 words.)
SOURCE: An interview with Salman Rushdie, in Chicago Tribune, January 28, 1996, p. 3.
[In the following interview, Blades queries Rushdie on religion and the effect of the Ayatollah Khomeini's death sentence on his writing.]
Name: Salman Rushdie
Job: Subversive novelist
Seven years after Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sentenced him to death for blaspheming the prophet Mohammed in "The Satanic Verses," Salman Rushdie recently emerged from deep cover in England to launch his latest novel, The Moor's Last Sigh. Born in India but now a British citizen, Rushdie managed to greatly offend "Mother India" with his new book, a dysfunctional family saga that's a savage satire of Hindu fundamentalism and a cruel and inhuman comedy best exemplified by his joke about "kebabed saints and tandooried martyrs".
[Blades:] Considering the evidence in The Moor's Last Sigh, you do seem genuinely disturbed about the more extreme forms of Hinduism in India.
[Rushdie:] I'm by no means the only person who feels that Hindu fundamentalism is the greatest single danger to India's democracy. Millions upon millions think as I do. When I was in India last, I traveled around the country for months making a documentary, and I interviewed a number of extremist politicians, who are the scariest people in the world. "Yes," they say, "we're...
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SOURCE: A review of The Moor's Last Sigh, in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 277, No. 2, February, 1996, p. 114.
[Below, Adams presents a positive review of The Moor's Last Sigh.]
Mr. Rushdie's new novel is so intricate, so multi-faceted, and so fast-moving that it keeps the reader dizzily enthralled from beginning to end. It may also add a Hindu curse to the Islamic price on the author's head, for beneath the surface glitter of the tale lies a protest against the rise of chauvinistic Hindu fundamentalism and the dissolution of a once tolerant and flexible culture. The Moor of the title, who has nothing to do with Othello, is Moraes Zogoiby, the story's narrator. He is the last male survivor of two European families that flourished for centuries in the spice trade of the Malabar Coast. The Portuguese Da Gamas claim illegitimate descent from the great Vasco—improbably. The Jewish Zogoibys are suspected of descent, also illegitimate and improbable, from Boabdil, the last Sultan of Moorish Spain. The Da Gamas thrive on art, violence, and personal eccentricities of which walking a stuffed dog on a leash is a mild example. The Zogoibys remain largely offstage, but the activities of Moraes's father, Abraham, indicate a talent for finance, political intrigue, revenge, and dissimulation. The characters speak with a wild, crackling eloquence; comic, horrible, and fantastic events merge and conflict; and the...
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SOURCE: "Extravagant, Madcap Vision of an Indian Clan," in The Christian Science Monitor, February 7, 1996, p. 13.
[In the following review, Rubin remarks that "the Moor's outlandish friends, family, and enemies may begin to look a little more familiar than we'd like" in The Moor's Last Sigh.]
Salman Rushdie's latest novel, The Moor's Last Sigh, is an extravagant, tragicomic vision of a world exploding with violence, madness, and corruption. Set in the author's native India (where it has been banned, along with Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses," which earned him a Muslim death sentence), this bizarre saga of a larger-than-life family is narrated by the last surviving member of the colorful clan.
Moraes Zogoiby, known as "Moor," is descended on his mother's side from the da Gamas, wealthy spice traders of Portuguese-Christian extraction. His father's clan, the Zogoibys, are members of a Jewish community in South India, although according to family legend, their progenitor who fled Spain for India in 1492 was a defeated Moorish sultan who only pretended to be Jewish.
In the foreground of the tale, three generations of the da Gamas squabble over a family business that eventually mushrooms into an empire of fraud, crime, and violence. In the background, cultures clash, overlay, and mingle, forming a palimpsest of conquest, creation, migration, love, and betrayal that...
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SOURCE: "The Author Is Too Much with Us," in Commonweal, Vol. CXXIII, No. 3, February 9, 1996, pp. 22-3.
[In the following review, Maitland suggests that The Moor's Last Sigh suffers from the fallout of the fatwa imposed upon its author.]
Salman Rushdie is—and I think this can be said fairly uncontroversially—one of the most important English-language novelists currently writing. He has mythologized all our lives, and done so in the arena of multiculturalism and postmodernism. This is a remarkable achievement; and of course cannot be separated, in some important respects, from his own social boundary transgressions—he is the product of both a divided India and the British Public School system: Gandhi and Tom Brown's School Days; of Islam and the Booker Prize. Autobiography however is not the whole story—Rushdie has an extraordinarily bold imagination, in relation to both subject matter and plot and to language—as a nonrealist novelist myself I cannot but envy and admire the high-handed courage of his fiction.
It is therefore particularly tragic that it will probably never again be possible to read his fiction without thinking of his life: of the fatwa, of the international cause célèbre, of the fear, and of the years of isolation and abnormality. I do not want to suggest that all of this would not have mattered so much if he had been a...
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SOURCE: "Salaam Bombay!," in New Republic, Vol. 214, No. 12, March 18, 1996, pp. 38-41.
[In the following review, Wood offers a mixed assessment of The Moor's Last Sigh.]
In 1835, Macaulay threw out one of those phrasal boomerangs that returns not to arm but to maim its sender: "A single shelf of a good European library is worth the whole native literature of India." In this century, Macaulay has been paid back by Indian literature for that untruth: he has been pelted with masterpieces. The two most significant novelists working in England—V.S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie—are Indian in origin. Both have made comic war on English condescension, and both have made peace with their now enriched victim. Rushdie in particular has seemed to want to tip a shelf of European books into his novels in reply to Macaulay, to want to make his books costive and prodigal and bursting, and with a decidedly un-English philosophical rasp. His new novel is calmer and more elegiac than anything he has yet written, but with its allusions to Kipling, Conrad and Shakespeare, it nevertheless overflows with ambiguous gratitude.
Although Rushdie once referred to India's literary revenge on its former colonizers as "the Empire striking back," the parties were only at familial war, since Rushdie's comedy is highly indebted to English comic ancestors such as Sterne and Dickens. Indeed, The Moor's Last...
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SOURCE: "Palimpsest Regained," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XLIII, No. 5, March 21, 1996, pp. 13-16.
[In the following review, Coetzee presents a deep analysis of The Moor's Last Sigh, noting its multilayered construction.]
The Moor's Last Sigh is a novel about modern India. Its hero is Moraes Zogoiby of Bombay, nicknamed by his mother "the Moor." But the famous sigh to which the title refers was breathed five centuries ago, in 1492, when Muhammad XI, last sultan of Andalusia, bade farewell to his kingdom, bringing to an end Arab-Islamic dominance in Iberia. Fourteen ninety-two was the year, too, when the Jews of Spain were offered the choice of baptism or expulsion; and when Columbus, financed by the royal conquerors of the Moor, Ferdinand and Isabella, sailed forth to discover a new route to the East.
From Sultan Muhammad a line of descent, partly historical, partly fabulous, leads to Moraes, the narrator, who in 1992 will return from the East to "discover" Andalusia. In a dynastic prelude occupying the first third of the novel, Moraes's genealogy is traced back as far as his great-grandparents, the da Gamas. Francisco da Gama is a wealthy spice exporter based in Cochin in what is now Kerala State. A progressive and a nationalist, he soon disappears from the action (Rushdie gives short shrift to characters whose usefulness has...
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SOURCE: A review of The Moor's Last Sigh, in Quill and Quire, Vol. 62, No. 4, April, 1996, p. 25.
[Below, Wigston offers a positive review of the audio version of The Moor's Last Sigh.]
Actor Art Malik read The Moor's Last Sigh, Rushdie's latest tour de force, in what is a near-perfect marriage of medium and messenger. As the doomed Hari Kumar in the BBC opus The Jewel and the Crown, Malik embodied the tragedy of the Indian caught between East and West a teasing reference to Rushdie's own saga.
Malik's strong, well-mannered tone almost holds this typically unwieldy Rushdie narrative (think Midnight's Children) in check through betrayals, murders, births, deaths, lusts, upheavals so numerous they verge on tedium. But he is best-as is the novel-in the domestic bits, when he reads in the Indian-accented dialogue. Here the story really leaps to life, free for a time of its greatest drag, the Moor himself.
Heir to a huge spice empire in Cochin—a tangled dynasty of Indians, Jews, and Portuguese—the Moor recounts family history as he expires in a graveyard in Spain. But his story—which never strays far from his mother Aurora—mainly takes place in India. Mother India and the Moor's mother are explicitly enmeshed. Aurora is also the "most illustrious of our modern artists." Betrayed and banished by art, mother, homeland, the Moor...
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Fields, Beverly. "Salman Rushdie Returns." Chicago Tribune—Books (14 January 1996): 1.
Review of The Moor's Last Sigh outlining the reasons for its censorship in India.
Hajari, Nisid. "Rushdie Lets Out a 'Sigh'." Entertainment Weekly (9 February 1996): 47.
Relates the critic's experience of interviewing the heavily guarded Rushdie upon the release of The Moor's Last Sigh.
Shone, Tom. "Mother Knows Best." Spectator 275, No. 8722 (9 September 1995): 38.
Positive review of The Moor's Last Sigh.
Vargas Llosa, Alvaro. "The Last Sigh of Diversity." New Perspectives Quarterly (Spring 1996): 47-9.
Interview with the author.
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