The Moor’s Last Sigh

On the plane ride to and from Florida, I read “The Moor’s Last Sigh” by Salman Rushdie. It was a hyperlink tendril from some reading I was doing last fall about Andalusia.
The book is full sharp satire, rich description, verbal creativity, high drama. It’s an overstuffed saga of a Portugese-Christian-Jewish-Indian family of traders, artists and mobsters, set in Cochin and Bombay from the late 19th century to the late 20th.
The narrator and main character is nicknamed “The Moor”, after a legend that the family descends from Boabdil, the Moorish king who turned the keys to the last Moorish stronghold over to the Spanish.
Written while Rushdie was in hiding from the Ayatolla’s Fatwah, one of the novel’s themes is the passing away of a vibrant, crazily passionate diverse and mixed society, replaced by a world where the power of fanaticism is superseded only by the depth of corruption.
The darkness of the book’s plot is exceeded by the darkness of its characters.
The Moor was born with a crippled right hand, and suffers from a form of progeria in which he ages twice as quickly as normal people. His temperament is passive; he is almost always the pawn of clever and vicious people around him. His emotional landscape is full of shame and self-hatred.
The most dramatic character is the Moor’s mother, Aurora, an artist whose brilliance and love is often surpassed by her betrayals and cruelty. Over and over in the book, love turns into betrayal. Artistic gifts and true love don’t redeem very much.
Overall, the novel is hard to get through, because of the bleak emotional dynamic and the pacing. For a novel in which so many outrageous things happen, the novel is curiously static, like a nightmare. The pacing makes narrative sense given the denouement, which I won’t give away.
It was worth reading, but I am not sure whether or not to recommend it.

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