The Moor's Last Sigh

by Salman Rushdie

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The Moor’s Last Sigh

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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 odd couples, illicit affairs, and deep divisions of various kinds, from a Marxist millionaire and a rabid Hindu fundamentalist in love with a Parsee Miss India to the May-December union of a motherless artist/Madonna/Mother India and fatherless Jewish businessman and would-be patriarch who will end up financing “the Islamic bomb.” The novel is full of puns, cartoonish characters, palimpsest paintings, and intertextual echoes, but what is equally impressive is Rushdie’s decision to set this latest meditation on “the migrant condition” against a richly detailed historical backdrop spanning two “world” wars, Indian independence/partition, and recent sectarian strife.

Although the novel succeeds in many ways, it fails in one important respect. Its hope for the future seems too willed, and just a little too wishful in its “clinging to the image of love as the blending of spirits, as melange, as the triumph of the impure, mongrel, conjoining best of us over what there is in us of the solitary, the isolated, the austere, the dogmatic, the pure; of love as democracy, as the victory of the no-man-is-an- island, two’s company Many over the clean, mean, Apartheiding Ones.”

Sources for Further Study

The Christian Science Monitor. October 10, 1995, p. 7.

The Economist. CCCXXXVI, September 9, 1995, p. 88.

Far Eastern Economic Review. CLVIII, October 5, 1995, p. 64.

London Review of Books. XVII, September 7, 1995, p. 3.

Los Angeles Times. September 14, 1995, p. E1.

New Statesman and Society . VIII, September 8, 1995, p. 39.

The New York Times. December 28, 1995, p. C13.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, October 2, 1995, p. 52.

The Spectator. CCLXXV, November 18, 1995, p. 47.

The Times Literary Supplement. September 8, 1995, p. 3.

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The Moor's Last Sigh Rushdie, Salman