The Moor’s Last Sigh

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The fatwa issued by the Ayotollah Khomeini on February 14, 1989, has given Salman Rushdie ample reason to be bitter: his novel THE SATANIC VERSES judged blasphemous; its author a hostage kept under round- the-clock police protection; its publisher threatened; translators attacked, one fatally; the breakup of Rushdie’s second marriage; an embarrassing attempt to appease his enemies; the seeming slightness of two subsequent books—HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES (1990), a fable, and EAST, WEST (1994), a collection of short stories. THE MOOR’S LAST SIGH shows that Rushdie is back at full-strength, as ambitious and imaginative as ever but not at all bitter, only disappointed. There is bitterness here, but it is the bitterness of the characters in a story in which love and loyalty often end in betrayal and vengeance.

A family saga about (among other things) art, THE MOOR’S LAST SIGH most resembles MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN, with a slight change of venue. It is a tale of two cities, Cochin and Rushdie’s beloved Bombay, and of two families: the da Gamas, wealthy spice traders who wistfully trace their line back to the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (who arrived in India in 1498), and the Zogoibys, poor and Jewish, who, on equally scant evidence, trace their ancestry back to an encounter between a poor Jewish girl and the last Moorish king of Granada, which occurred shortly after he was expelled from Spain in 1492. The novel comprises an intricate series of...

(The entire section is 498 words.)