The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie

Last_sighWhat’s this book about, eh? Let’s check the back cover blurb:

“Its narrator is Moaes ‘Moor’ Zogoiby, a ‘high-born crossbreed’ who is the last surviving scion of a dynasty of Cochinese spice merchants and crime lords. Moor is a compulsive storyteller and an exile. And as he travels a route that takes him from India to Spain, he leaves behind a labyrinthine tale of mad passions and volcanic family hatreds, of titanic matriarchs and their mesmerized offspring, of premature deaths and curses that strike beyond the grave.”

Moor does indeed journey to Spain from India. In an airplane. In the last 20 pages of the novel.

Baldly misleading summaries are hardly rare; what is interesting here is what whomever wrote the above chose to omit and why.

Because what the The Moor’s Last Sigh is about is this: a man, near death due a supernatural ailment, tells the story of his entire family from great grandparents to himself, tying them to the tumultuous history of India. The exact same setup as that of Rushdie’s most celebrated novel, Midnight’s Children, the Booker of Bookers.

The same setup. Not nearly as good.

It’s not a total retread. Simply chronicling a different family in a different region of India changes the story greatly. But neither novel has a gripping plot — they are appealing due to Rushdie’s wordy, imaginative prose and the history he intends to capture. Moor’s origin is a collision between Christian and Jewish tradition. The locus of the story, and the Zogoiby-De Gama family, is Moor’s mother, Aurora. All roads, past and present lead back to Aurora. She is the magnetic core drawing all others in, both in-narrative and as external-reader. When the story focuses on Moor, it’s dull by comparison — which makes a sort of narrative sense but does not make the book any less bland when his mother exits center stage.

Rushdie’s writing does make it all worth reading. The man can turn a phrase. And perhaps if it didn’t feel like somewhat of a regurgitation of a greater work, I would have enjoyed it more. Nonetheless, I found it wanting.

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