Salman Rushdie,
The Moor's Last Sigh
(Pantheon, 1996)

Moraes Zogoiby, the narrator of The Moor's Last Sigh, suffers from a curious affliction: he ages two years physically for every year he lives. His out-of-synch life reflects the syncopated rhythms of his narrative, an account of his family's history. The simple, linear thread of chronology twists and spirals through time, past, present and future, and the convoluted tale is presented against the backdrop of India's modern history.

the last of the Moors to rule the legendary Alhambra in Spain. When expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella, he pauses for one last look back and sighs and weeps. Aurora uses her son as the model for her "Moor" series, tying him to her personal vision. She becomes the filter through which her family sees the world. In the end, the story is Moor's last sigh; there is no more to tell.

Rushdie exhibits remarkable skill in evoking images of Bombay: bright colors, dust and heat, the glitter of mirrors and the sharp and sweet smells of pepper and cardamom. The reader is caught up in the constant crowded motion as characters appear, disappear and reappear, sometimes unexpectedly. Running like a satiny ribbon through the narrative is Rushdie's signature magic realism, sometimes mystical and sometimes ludicrous. His characterizations are vivid and deft, and Rushdie has a remarkable skill for creating even minor characters in a single throwaway line, as when he has Moor mention "...the Royal Barber Shop (where a master barber with a cleft palate offered a circumcision service as a sideline)." Finally, Rushdie is a writer in love with language, and he plays with it energetically and enthusiastically.

Readers may find that while much seems to happen, progress through the novel may be slow, as if Moor's affliction in reverse. Still, Moor's tale is engrossing and moving, and is well worth the endeavor.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 30 May 1999

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