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Imaginative, darkly funny and compelling
on 6 July 2010
'The Moor's Last Sigh' follows the story of Moraes 'Moor' Zogoiby, as he tells the tumultuous history of his family and the series of chaotic events that have taken him from Bombay on a desperate quest to Spain. One of the main focuses of the story is his mother, a powerful figure and talented artist who painted a series of pictures of 'The Moor', a character inspired by family ancestry and also somewhat based on her son. Through a string of personal tragedies and national events, the Zogoiby family has been torn apart, and Moor seeks to show the reasons behind this to the reader, giving explanations that veer between the mundane and the magical.
The beauty of Rushdie's writing is the way that he describes things in just the right level of detail (intricate enough to paint the scene perfectly, whilst not bogging the reader down), connects the comparatively small personal events in the lives of his character with what is going on in the world as a whole, and also his dark humour. Somehow he manages to make the characters in the book somewhat responsible or at least complicit in events that affect the whole of India or even the world. I also like the way in which the reader is never sure whether the highly unusual, even magical occurrences that Moor describes are supposed to be taken seriously, or if he is just using them as a way of justifying or excusing people's actions.
This is the second Salman Rushdie book I have read, the first being 'Midnight's Children'. My first impressions are that he certainly has a distinctive style, and that these two books are similar in tone, themes, and even share a couple of characters.
Like 'Midnight's Children', the narrator of the story is a man who has grown up with exceptional powers/ characteristics that have had a strong effect on his life. He has also grown up with an extremely interesting, chaotic and somewhat tragic family life and history, and has been continuously influenced by a string of powerful females who have come into his life and altered its course dramatically. Other similarities between the books are the continuous references to and connections with major events happening in India at the time the book is set in, the way in which the narrator seems to have omniscience that enables him to retell his family history in explicit detail, and also that the fact that the narrator is hurriedly trying to tell his tale before his life comes to an untimely end.
Similarities aside, the books are telling two quite separate tales and are highly enjoyable in their own right. However, if you happen to have both books on hand, I would recommend that you read 'Midnight's Children' first. This will give you the pleasure of recognising a couple of characters and events that are mentioned. I should also mention that another factor that will help you understand and enjoy this book more fully is a knowledge of the culture and history of India. Having said that, you could still enjoy the book immensely without such knowledge, you would just probably not notice Rushdie's little in-jokes that crop up every now and then, and perhaps the realistic way he uses Indian-English may be lost upon you.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. It is wonderfully imaginative, excellently written and completely compelling. I will definitely be reading more Rushdie in the future.