am 16. Juli 2000
In a careful and calculated manner, The Moor's Last Sigh leaps across four generations of a rich and demented Indian family, weaving an exquisitely-crafted tapestry of murder and suicide, atheism and asceticism, affection and adultery.
The first person narrator of this cynical yet mischievous book is Moraes Zogoiby, aka "Moor," who, seemingly unaffected by his asthma, spins his tale sitting atop a tombstone within sight of the Alhambra in Spain and pursued by a policeman named--like the holy city of Islam--Medina.
The centerpiece of this captivating and gorgeous novel is Moor's highly dysfunctional family, a Grand Guignol of good and evil, the deformations of the spirit wrought by love withered or love withheld and the beauty and violence of art, all representative of the tortured history of twentieth century India.
Moor, himself, is the champion of miscegenation and cultural melange, bastards and cross-breeds. Standing six and one-half feet tall, Moor has a withered right hand and, like India, he grows too fast, twice the rate of a normal human being. A thirty-six year old elderly man, still in love with a deceitful (and deceased) woman, Moor exhibits the body of a none-too-healthy seventy-two year old. His bloodline, too, is as crowded and diverse as India, herself.
Moor is the son of Abraham Zogoiby, a South Indian Jew who is probably the illegitimate descendant of Boabdil, the last Muslim Sultan of Granada and the celebrated artist, Aurora da Gama, a Christian claiming descent from the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama.
Abraham and Aurora's love first carries them to the dizzying, hyperbolic heights of fame and power, then plunges them into depths reminiscent of Lucifer's expulsion from Paradise. The blood of the Zogoiby family is indeed tainted--with murder, adultery and lies--and they, in turn, infect everyone they encounter.
A tragic figure, Moor nevertheless reveals a wickedly comic streak, as Rushdie combines high art with gaudy jags that refer to the pop cultures of India, America and Britain. Although most Rushdie readers are well-versed in multi-cultural sociology, even the most erudite may have to struggle with this book's obscure, inside jokes and satire.
Disorientation also can occur as Rushdie leaps across time zones, from present to recent past to near future to ancient history. These time shifts, however, play an integral role in explaining each of Moor's vignettes and relating their importance to the story as a whole.
Among the many dualities threading their way through The Moor's Last Sigh, is the one of good art versus bad. The book's title actually refers to two paintings entitled, The Moor's Last Sigh. One is painted by Aurora, the other by her one-time-admirer-turned-nemesis, Vasco Miranda. Aurora's work is a masterpiece, the last in a series of allegorical paintings in which her son serves as subject. It becomes the symbol that finally gives Moor the humanity he so desires. Miranda's, on the other hand, is a sentimental kitsch of Sultan Boabdil's final departure from Granada. Which one best typifies Moor? In a sense, both do.
The narrative, as can be expected from a Rushdie novel, is filmy but faultless: a magical mixture of fact and fable, fantasy and absurdity, comedy and tragedy. Despite its brilliant touches of comedy, the tone remains dark, solemn and sober. Peopled with a wide range of characters, even when parodic and allegorical, they retain their essential humanness.
In the end, Rushdie really does paint Moor as a prophet, though one whose messianic calling looks not to the arrival of God but of the better self in all of us, the reconciliation of our mongrel ethics and spirituality.
A timely and compelling novel full of contradictions and complexities, The Moor's Last Sigh begs the reader to look beyond its impeccably composed plot to the discordant richness that typifies postcolonial India today.