The Moor's Last Sigh | Critical Review by Alan Ryan

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of The Moor's Last Sigh.
This section contains 934 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Alan Ryan

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 published short fiction, book reviews and essays, but The Moor's Last Sigh is his first full-fledged novel since The Satanic Verses, and it is as good as—maybe better than—his earlier best work, Midnight's Children.

In that 1990 novel, Rushdie—who was born in Bombay in 1947—took all of Indian history and life as his material. "There are so many stories to tell," he wrote at the beginning of the novel, "too many, such an excess of intertwined lives events miracles places rumors, so dense a commingling of the improbable and the mundane!" In this latest novel, his setting is specifically Bombay, which the narrator describes as "central; all rivers flowed into its human sea. It was an ocean of stories; we were all its narrators, and everybody talked at once."

The nominal plot of The Moor's Last Sigh is the history of a Bombay family and its very broad circle that incorporates all the disparate elements, both domestic and imported, that inform life in that throbbing city: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Indian, Goan, Portuguese and on and on. It is a family tossed violently about on that ocean of stories by greed, love, hate, jealousy, ambition, sex, you-name-it.

At the center of the story is the narrator's mother, Aurora Zogoiby, a famed artist whose pictures suggest, in their bold colors, surreal images, and personal and political themes, the paintings of Frida Kahlo. All the other family members, both antecedents and her own four children, swirl around her dazzling, outrageous, and possibly dangerous personality.

The narrator is her only son and youngest child, Moraes, known as "the Moor," and not the least of his problems are three sisters, Ina, Minnie and Mynah, or possibly Eeny, Meenie and Miney, followed, obviously, by Mo. Through the years, Aurora's husband builds an empire in the spice trade, finally ruling it (and maybe much more) from a skyscraper-top botanical hothouse and living always with the uneasy suspicion (or maybe knowledge) that his unquenchable wife enjoys a lover or three.

Besides the sisters (who become variously a runway model with a "Super Sashay," a nun and a feminist activist), the eponymous Moor must cope with a clublike, unformed right hand, a limb that his mother paints into portraits in wildly fantastic images, and which also, after boxing lessons from a family retainer, earns him a nickname—"The Hammer."

Then there's the problem he becomes aware of at an early age: "I am going through time faster than I should. Do you understand me? Somebody somewhere has been holding down the button marked 'FF,' or, to be more exact, '×2." While his mind matures at a normal rate, his body is doing double time, looking 20 at age 10, and so on.

And swirling around in this tsunami of stories: a thieving ayah named Miss Jaya, a tutor named Dilly Hormuz who tutors the young Moor in subjects not mentioned in her contract (and I hope I'm not the only reader who thinks of hormones when I hear her name), a painter named Vasco Miranda who earns his fame doing airport murals and whose personal excesses would have been the envy of Dali, a cook who can recite the family history from the record of meals he prepared, a stuffed dog on wheels named Jawaharlal, a parrot that occasionally screeches, "Mashed White Elephant!" and who-knows what-all else.

This book is an extraordinary act of the imagination. Who else in the whole world has this drunken, Dickensian power of invention? The Brazilian Jorge Amado, the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, the Japanese Haruki Murakami, maybe a couple of others. Every time you open this book, you expect a character to reach out from the pages and drag you in headfirst.

And listen to Aurora as she directs V. Miranda, who is about to decorate the nursery. "Cartoons," she tells him. "You go to the pictures? You read the comic-cuts? Then, that mouse, that duck, and what is the name of that bunny. Also that sailor and saag saga. Maybe the cat that never catchees the mouse, the other cat that never catchees the bird, or the other bird that runs too fast for the coy-oat. Give me boulders that only temporarily flattofy you when they drop down on your head, bombs that give black faces only, and running-over-empty-air-until-you-looko-down. Give me knottofied-up rifle-barrels, and bathfuls of big gold coins. Never mind about harps and angels, forget all those stinking gardens; for my kiddies, this is the Paradise I want."

Readers with a psychological bent will certainly examine this novel as a text produced by a writer compelled to live his life in hiding, and they will find much to occupy their minds. It might be better, though, just to surrender to this wonderful book and be swept away to worlds unknown on its ocean of stories. Rushdie, even in hiding, grins and waves from the top of the heap, and it will be a year of miracles if another novel half as fascinating, entertaining and thought-provoking comes along this twelvemonth.

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This section contains 934 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Alan Ryan