Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie

A couple years ago, the book club (R.I.P.) read The Satanic Verses at my suggestion. I had long wondered what all the fuss was about given the fatwa issued by Khomeini against Rushdie following its publication. To be sure, the so-called "blasphemous" elements are easily discerned--but they are no more outrageous than Dante's critique of the Catholic church in The Inferno. I've always believed if your gods and prophets aren't tough enough to take a little criticism, then they're not much in the way of deities at all...

The Moor's Last Sigh is Rushdie's follow-up to The Satanic Verses and, according to Wikipedia, "is referential to that circumstance in many ways, especially the isolation of the narrator, as well as the shadow of death that seems to constantly hang over him." The narrator in question is Moraes Zogoiby, aka "Moor," but the tale he tells is less about his own life--foreshortened due to a congenital disease whereby he ages at twice the normal rate--and more about his ancestry and his country.

Bombay was 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 Moor's Last Sigh is indeed an ocean of stories--and the most striking characters are the many women. From Moraes great-grandmother, the irascible Epifana da Gama, followed by her strong-willed daughter-in-law Belle, and then in turn by her headstrong daughter, the artist Aurora who married Abraham Zogoiby at age fifteen and gave him three daughters--and a son, Moraes. Like The Satanic Verses, The Moor's Last Sigh is filled with dense prose that requires careful and thoughtful reading. Unlike Moraes, who ages two years for every 365 days, the novel's pacing is quite the opposite--languorously wending through the complex story.

But it's beautifully written by a master artist who seems to have an unlimited arsenal of colors and textures in his lexicon to paint with words the detailed canvas of the Moor's story. It's a harsh story--in addition to his life speeding by twice as fast as normal, the Moor witnesses deceptions and betrayals, infighting and rivalry, bitterness and jealousy. Morose and bleak and ultimately pragmatic, Rushdie writes:
...we look up and we hope that the stars look down, we pray that there may be stars for us to follow, stars moving across the heavens and leading us to our destiny, but it's only our vanity. We look at the heavens and fall in love, but the universe cares less about us than we do about it, and the stars stay in their courses however much we may wish upon them to do otherwise. It's true that if you watch the sky-wheel turn for a while you'll see a meteor fall, flame and die. That's not a star worth following; it's just an unlucky rock. Our fates are here on earth. There are no guiding stars.
But even in the darkness of this imagery, there remains a bit of light in the somber story. As long as there is life, there is hope and our stories allow us to live forever.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post! Sigh was my first Rushdie book and I looooved it. "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" had lots of complex magical things going on, but it didn't appeal to me.

    maybe I should dig out Sigh again.

    - j