The Moor's Last Sigh | Critical Review by Newsweek

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of The Moor's Last Sigh.
This section contains 782 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Newsweek

Critical Review by Newsweek

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 issued a fatwa, or death sentence, against Rushdie and sent him into hiding. In recent years he (and his guards from Scotland Yard) has shown up increasingly often at social and literary events—and a book tour has just taken him to Australia—but his life remains far from normal. In November, police in Santiago, Chile, where he went to speak at a book fair, rushed him off to a secret location when they suspected an assassination plot. Meanwhile, diplomatic negotiations on the fatwa continue, but most people involved are not optimistic. "We want a clear, unequivocal letter from the Iranians that the fatwa won't be carried out," a senior British official told Newsweek. Right now he sees no such assurance on the way.

The Moor's Last Sigh seems unlikely to offend Muslims—but ultranationalist Hindus are another matter. The Shiv Sena, an extremist Hindu political party, has successfully pressured the Indian government to forbid imports of the book. That hasn't stopped Indians from eagerly reading the few thousand copies that arrived before the edict. Many are relishing Rushdie's portrait of a repellent politico who bears notable resemblance to Bal Thackeray, the rabid right-winger who runs the Shiv Sena.

But Rushdie's new novel is not an attack on India; it's more like a passionate, often furious love letter to the country of his birth. Starting in the 19th century, Moor spins out a tale spanning generations of his family's adventures in India's spice trade, its art world and its gangster underworld. His mother, Aurora Da Gama, is a great artist, beautiful and shrewd, with a grip on the hearts and souls of her family that nothing can shake. In fact, she is Mother India herself, and her story mimics the nation's. When her only son falls in love with Uma, a strange but alluring newcomer who seems to have a dozen personae and no principles, Aurora tries to warn him that disaster is in store. But Moor can't resist, and embraces his own destruction. At the same time, a nation that struggled for decades to keep its politics secular falls under the sway of an enticing new brand of Hinduism. Raman Fielding (the character inspired by Bal Thackeray) promises Hindus their rightful glory as a majority, while Muslims, Christians and everyone else get beaten into submission. Moor understands very well how this kind of India operates, for he is Fielding's right-hand man for a time. Eventually disaster catches up with him, and overtakes Aurora, too. It's all to Rushdie's credit that what might have been a grim conclusion actually brings on a smile.

Written in his signature, pell-mell style, wild with wordplay, The Moor's Last Sigh also has simpler passages of a sort that didn't show up in "The Satanic Verses." Describing Aurora as she sat sketching in the slums of Bombay, for instance, Moor recalls how she captured in charcoal "the face-slapping quarrels of naked children at a tenement standpipe, the grizzled despair of idling workers smoking beedies on the doorsteps of locked-up pharmacies … the toughness of women with saris pulled over their heads, squatting by tiny primus stoves … as they tried to conjure meals from empty air." In this altogether splendid novel, Rushdie's indictment of religious politics is very powerful, but the plain words from his heart are even more so.

(read more)

This section contains 782 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Newsweek