The Moor's Last Sigh | Critical Review by Linton Weeks

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of The Moor's Last Sigh.
This section contains 1,010 words
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Critical Review by Linton Weeks

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 his hair, or what's left of it. He tips a little cream into his coffee, checks his watch, scratches at his salt-and-pepper beard and shifts his wire-rims. His eyes droop cartoonishly.

He began work on the book, he says, about five years ago, but was not able to focus. "I can't tell you how much time that political campaign took up," he says.

He says he's discussed fundamentalism and death threats with more than enough presidents and politicians. "I should do my job and they should do theirs. I should not be an endless lobbyist for myself."

There was even one point, one icy moment, when he completely lost faith in the novel. "All I had was a stack of notes and papers."

"It's very scary to have worked for several years and have nothing," he says. But he has come to believe that every writer must go through this hellish period.

Rushdie should know by now what it takes to write a novel. He has written five, including Midnight's Children, which won the Booker Prize, two collections of stories and three books of nonfiction. In 1989 he wrote a novel called The Satanic Verses.

In his fiction, he wrestles with the Big Themes—passion, power, love and death.

He also has fun. "It's been funny to write a sex comedy in the midst of all this," he tells the radio audience.

His books are peopled with phantasmagoric characters and events. Rushdie shies away from the label of "magic realist," in the manner of Gabriel Garcia Marquez; he employs surreality only as a way to speak about how things really are, he says.

For instance, Moraes, the narrator in his new novel, was brought into the world after only 4 1/2 months in his mother's womb. And he lives life twice as fast as everyone else.

With this conceit, Rushdie believes he has tapped into the universal feeling that life is accelerating and that as we age, the years seem to grow shorter.

"I'm really 150 years old," Rushdie is fond of saying.

Rushdie is a master of wordplay. Aurora, his main female character, has a wild and wicked tongue, a quirky way of speaking and a habit of adding -ofy to verbs. She threatens to give one character a slap "that will breakofy the teeth in your cheeky face."

And Rushdie is fascinated by nocturnal visions. His stories are full of dreams and dreamers. In The Moor's Last Sigh he writes of one character's "terrible, pummeling dreams."

Rushdie himself is a dreamer. But in recent years, he says, "I've had very few nightmares. It's alarming enough when I'm awake."

He adds, "I have innocent dreams."

For a while, he says, "I seemed to enter the dream life of the world. People had dreams about me. In their dreams, they rescued me."

"When I'm writing," he says, "I don't have very interesting dreams."

Each workday, at home in England, begins slowly. Though there are mornings when he wakes up and goes straight to the table without taking off his nightclothes or brushing his teeth, he usually begins around 10 a.m. and quits midafternoon.

He goes to parties when he can. "Though not as many as the newspapers would have you believe." He never has friends to his house. His marriage to writer Marianne Wiggins fell apart. He doesn't get to see his 16-year-old son as much as he would like.

"What's difficult to do," he says, "is something on the spur of the moment. I'd like to be able to go for a good, brisk walk. But I can't."

Rushdie also uses his fiction as a crowbar to get into places other writers seldom venture. He believes this tendency has gotten him into trouble in the past and is part of the reason The Moor's Last Sigh is not being distributed in India at the moment.

At times during his day in Washington, Rushdie's life appears unbearably bizarre—the security sweeps, stone-jawed bodyguards, a bomb-sniffing dog at the Press Club. At one point a young Indian journalist asks, "Do you see your own life as a Rushdiesque story?"

"Yes," Rushdie says. "It's a bad one."

In the WAMU studio, technicians watch Rushdie and Rehm, their lips out of synchronization for a while because of a seven-second delay. She asks about his next project and he says he might write something about America or about rock-and-roll. Or about the last seven years of his life.

He says he's been keeping a journal and if he does write about his ordeal, it will be nonfiction.

At the end of the day, scores of people line up after the Press Club reading to have their books autographed. After that, he's whisked off to dinner at Restaurant Nora and then to bed, where in his dreams, Salman Rushdie lives safe, in sync and fatwa-free.

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This section contains 1,010 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Linton Weeks