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The Moor's Last Sigh is primarily about the life and times of a Anglo-Indian family descended from Vasco Da Gama. In Rushdies words spoken through the narrator of the story"Mine is the story of the fall from grace of a high born cross-breed: me, Moraes Zogoiby, called Moor, for most of my life, the only male heir to the da Gama-Zagoiby dynasty of cochin, and of my banishment by my mother Aurora, nee da Gama, most illustrious of our modern artists."

Moor's Last Sigh - Review:

I had read Rushdie's Midnights children first in excerpts in the Indian express in the Sunday editions. Later I read the book in its entirety. It was a fascinating book. A very confident book. Perhaps for the first time in decades an Indian author had started with the premise that things Indian could be expressed in the English language without apologia and expect the world to take the trouble to learn about these things themselves in order to appreciate the plot and the ambiance of the book. A literature that was confident of its self-worth. Reminiscent of Desani's H. Haterr. and Niradh Chaudhuri's Autobiography of an Unknown Indian. Chaudhuri was perhaps the most erudite of this trio. And Desani the most wickedly ironic. Rushdie is I believe the most talented.

Rushdie in Midnights Children carries the fantasy that all children born at the hour that India achieved Independence Midnight, Aug. 15th [ such as Rushdie himself ] were able to telepathically communicate to each other the perils and tribulations that awaited them in those traumatic post-independence years.

'Midnights Children' for all its flights of surrealistic fancy, is Rushdies simplest and most direct writing. 'Shame' was heavily allegorical and murky. The Satanic Verses is brilliant if irreverent in its examination of the beginnings of Islam in Mecca. I believe Satanic Verses is by far the most important of Rushdies work. Since this article is meant to be about the Moor's Last Sigh I will not say anything more about other rusdhie books, for now :)

The Moor's Last Sigh is primarily about the life and times of a Anglo-Indian family descended from Vasco Da Gama. In Rushdies words spoken through the narrator of the story"Mine is the story of the fall from grace of a high born cross-breed: me, Moraes Zogoiby, called Moor, for most of my life, the only male heir to the da Gama-Zagoiby dynasty of cochin, and of my banishment by my mother Aurora, nee da Gama, most illustrious of our modern artists."

Rushdies trademark irony is evident right from the start in the genealogical tree of the Gama-Zagoiby family: Moraes and his sisters are nick named: Ina, Minnie,Mynah, Moor.

This book is about women. Female characters in his previous books are shallow and underdeveloped. Here, rushdie turns to real women. From Moor's great-grandmother Epiphania to Aurora his mother to Uma his own love, the women in this book acquire a reality often denied them in Indian writing in English. Even in vernacular Indian literature, women are most often depicted in passive roles, playing out assigned roles such as wife and mother and sister all in perfect saintliness. Most of the time the woman is the victim. And in that role she is blameless. Here Rushdie creates fascinatingly real women characters that are in turn wicked, bossy, maternal, seductive and for the most part in control. Uma Saraswati is I think a new sort of persona in Indian English writing: A fiercely passionate but essentially evil *female* genius. She is imbued with the gifts of intelligence and artistic ability [ she is a painter/sculptor ] and she lies plausibly throughout her all too brief appearance in the book. The very evil she does is so fascinating the reader can almost forgive her crimes.

Rushdie has created *active* female characters that are usually the heroines in books written by women. Jane Austin and George Elliot come to mind. It is rare in the work of male authors to find women characters who are actors instead of merely being the victim. If in the writing these characters acquire a not-so-sati-savitri image it is the price of portraying reality. It may at first put the reader accustomed to reading a body of literature that glorifies the passive purity of women, in a somewhat uncomfortable position, but that stage will pass.

Aurora da Gama who is the Moor's mother is a incomparably beautiful artist whose salon is legendary, as is her frankness and her temper. She calls herself a beatnik chick. [ This last struck me as somewhat jarring. Would the term beatnik realistically have been in circulation in India in even so cosmopolitan a place such as Bombay in the sixties ? enough for a woman who had never traveled abroad to describe herself as such ? Does anybody reading this remember contrariwise ?] She is obsessed with the theme of The Moor's last sigh. The Moor in this particular instantiation, refers to the Islamic ruler of spain, Boabdil, who when surrounded by the catholic forces surrendered the great red fort called the Alhambra, and left with his mother and mistress on horseback. In leaving he turns and looks at the Alhambra one last time. And sighs at all things lost. This tragedy is painted again and again and again in the works of Aurora da Gama, the main characters in the drama being depicted surealistically assuming the personae of herself, her son, her husband, her sons lover etc.. There are echoes of MF. Hussain's obsession with horses. Still I was unable to place the real person on whom Aurora da Gama is based. Perhaps she is wholly imaginary. On the other hand much like a dream will seem to sow a false memory of events, there seemed to have been a real Aurora da Gama in Bombay who danced every Ganesh Chathurthi on her cliff-fronted home. This is the story tellers art. Making a character so plausible we seem to think they are real.

Much as Aurora seems shrouded in mystery, the model for Raman Fielding aka main-duck [ frog in Hindi ], is very obvious. There are not that many cartoonists in Bombay who rose through the manipulations of religious and regionalistic chauvinism to become a powerful politician. Yes, we are talking about Bal Thackeray the master of the Shiv Sena. There has been much talk about how the book insults him. I found personally that the account given of him is objective for the most part. He is alternatively praised and vilified implicitly through the authors remarks. He comes across primarily as a ruthlessly efficient politician [ xref the Datta Samant led strikes that were crushed in part due to Shiv Sena efforts ] and as a lover of the arts [ his house is decorated with high art from different parts of India ] His hatred of the minorities is often only a pose [ He is infuriated at the suggestion that Islam had no culture to speak of, he recites Urdu poetry ].

Rushdie's love of Bombay is evident throughout the book. His knowledge of the city is encyclopaedic. Even more so his affection for India made more intense by his seclusion and recluse status comes through.

There are insights into the early spice trade set in Cochin that made the fortune of the da Gama-Zagoiby family. The life of the rich anglo Indian set is dealt with here. This is different from the lower middle class that was covered in the Alan Sealy book 'TrotterNama' . The odd mixture of English and malayalam and Hindi that Anglo-Indians use in kerala is the lingua-franca for the earlier characters in the book.Successive generations breeding out most of the 'Anglo' tint in language.

'Girl, one day you will killofy my heart !' is one of the first lines that Epifania, the moor [aka Moraes Zogoiby the narrator]'s great-grandmother says to her granddaughter Aurora.

People are always 'tiltoing' to one side of arguments. "And then when funds are frittered, and children are cap in hand ? Then we can eatofy your thisthing, your anthropology ?" another time is the question.

A stuffed Jawahar Lal Nehru, which as rushdie says quite sympathetically is what the first Indian prime minister has been reduced to. The dog is named thusly by an early da Gama ancestor to spite the Indian nationalist elements in the Gama Family. A crackpot scientific theory that is sent to national magazines, proposing that there is a field of conciosness energies around us called TFCs. The theory is torn apart and savaged by the newspaper establishment calling them Gama Rays.. Rushdie is endlessly inventive with the hooks on which to hang a characters shape.

The story is epic in scope, although it is not all that large in number of pages. As in Satanic Verses, the main theme : in this case the terrible loss of a heritage exemplified in the idea of the Emperor Boabdil leaving the Alhambra defeated and broken is played out at multiple levels by the various main actors.

I thought the story went on one chapter too much in the attempt to achieve a 'A Hundred Years of Solitude' kind of ending.

It is hard not to come away impressed with the description of India and its tragedies. Rushdie is simply a great story teller. There are patches that are not of the same mesmerizing quality in the book but on the whole a fascinating cohesive work weaving fact and fantasy into a delicious dish that promises to temptofy and satisfy the reader.

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Last Updated: December 11, 1998