The Moor's Last Sigh Essay - Critical Essays (Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Moor's Last Sigh Rushdie, Salman

Introduction

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.

Major Themes

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

Grimus (novel) 1975
Midnight's Children (novel) 1981
Shame (novel) 1983
The Satanic Verses (novel) 1988
Haroun and the Sea of Stories (juvenile) 1990
The Moor's Last Sigh (novel) 1995

Criticism

Aamer Hussein (review date September 1995)

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 crippled and crippling right hand, comes to know Fielding quite intimately. His mother, Aurora Zogoiby, a secular Christian of partly Portuguese descent, is India's most esteemed painter and showcase example of the elevated position of minorities. His father, like Aurora from the Southern city of Cochin, is her Jewish plutocrat husband. (But Moor may, according to one of the novel's entertaining asides, be the product of a lost night his mother perhaps spent with Nehru.)

Moor is raised in the lap of secular, liberal beliefs. He falls in love with the beautiful Uma, a deranged and brilliant young Hindu artist. Uma sets herself up as a rival—personally and professionally—to his mother; Moor is quite unprepared for the onslaught of the opportunistic new India, with its artists ready to scavenge in the "dead sea" of their country's heritage or pass off—as Uma does—postmodernist vacuity as religious fervour.

Rejected by his parents as a result of Uma's mad machinations, Moor is forced, after a terrifying stint in prison, to abandon his privileged lifestyle. He is transported to the "Under World" over which Fielding, an ambiguously malign Hades, presides. But this underworld is closely connected to—is, in fact, the foundation of—the world of appearances Moor formerly inhabited. His own father's fortune is aided by judicious dabbling in "white powder". As Moor comes to learn: "they are not...

(The entire section is 1180 words.)

Michael Wood (review date 7 September 1995)

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,...

(The entire section is 3073 words.)

Orhan Pamuk (review date 9 September 1995)

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 entire section is 2362 words.)

Publishers Weekly (review date 2 October 1995)

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...

(The entire section is 518 words.)

John Bemrose (review date 9 October 1995)

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...

(The entire section is 803 words.)

Brad Hooper (review date 1 November 1995)

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...

(The entire section is 238 words.)

John F. Burns (essay date 2 December 1995)

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...

(The entire section is 970 words.)

Michiko Kakutani (review date 28 December 1995)

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...

(The entire section is 1195 words.)

James Bowman (review date 31 December 1995)

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...

(The entire section is 1084 words.)

Jessica Hagedorn (review date 1 January 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 1810 words.)

Michael Dirda (review date 7 January 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 1445 words.)

Richard Eder (review date 7 January 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 1290 words.)

Newsweek (review date 8 January 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 783 words.)

Gail Caldwell (review date 14 January 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 1343 words.)

Norman Rush (review date 14 January 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 1564 words.)

Paul Gray (review date 15 January 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 876 words.)

Paul Gray (essay date 15 January 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 271 words.)

Nina Barnton (essay date 17 January 1996)

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,...

(The entire section is 1538 words.)

Linton Weeks (review date 20 January 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 1036 words.)

Alan Ryan (review date 21 January 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 942 words.)

John Blades (interview date 28 January 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 960 words.)

Phoebe-Lou Adams (review date February 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 245 words.)

Merle Rubin (review date 7 February 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 766 words.)

Sara Maitland (review date 9 February 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 1113 words.)

James Wood (review date 18 March 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 2899 words.)

J. M. Coetzee (review date 21 March 1996)

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.]

1.

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...

(The entire section is 3878 words.)

Nancy Wigston (review date April 1996)

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...

(The entire section is 357 words.)