Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book Review: The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie

So this is, I think, my third Rushdie book I've read. I think my favorite part of reading multiple books by the same guy is that you get a sense of what characters he likes and what gets set aside for another book. I found about three side characters in this book that made their way into Enchantress of Florence. It's funny that way. There's like a little Rushdie universe that gets deconstructed and remade in a new image every book, where the same personalities get recast and put into new relationships. It's fun to read, you can almost see it as an experiment where he sees who clashes with who, who falls in love, and who gets to be the hero.

In The Moor's Last Sigh, though there is no hero. I mean, sure, there's a protagonist, but Moraes Zogoiby is noone's hero. Least of all his own. He's hardly even the focus of the story. One would argue that the entire da Gama side of his family, three generations of women so strong and beautiful they could only exist in book form, are the heroes. Except for the family drama that intercepts their family business (spices!) and the proof that all of the da Gamas (and Zogoibys, and any other family mentioned) are all hideously morally corrupt. In many ways its a Follett novel in India.

And that is the other argument, I suppose. That this book isn't about family, its about India. There's lots of inside jokes...wordplay, codeswitching, and the like, which require some background on India to get. And for those that don't know India that much? There's wikipedia. I love the wordplay, though, it makes it fun and lighthearted to read, even when we're talking about the illegal labor market of Bombay. The lightheartedness of it even can serve to emphasize how awful some of these things are.

In my personal opinion, Moor's Last Sigh isn't as good as the other two I've read, Enchantress of Florence and Shalimar the Clown. Again, this is just me. Moor's Last Sigh was up for some pretty awesome awards, so I may very well be in the wrong here. But I just felt that it wasn't as tightly written or as detailed, because of the family issue and the fact that there are so many "main characters" to focus on. And as much as Rushdie focuses on and raphsodizes about Bombay, I never really had a Feeling of Bombay. It isn't an ode to the city, as much as it talks about how wonderful the city is. I've never been to Bombay. I have no more, or less, desire to go after reading this book. Bombay is almost a non-place in this book, like something out of BLDGBlog. Though I suppose that could be on purpose, because Moraes never truly "lived" in Bombay, or anywhere else for that matter. But for all of these huge questions and sketchinesses in the book, somehow, because he says so, everything falls in its right place.

On a personal level, the book did spur a thought in me, which doesn't happen much. But I was talking to a friend about the whole "OMG! Travel! I love to see the worlddd!" sort of vibe is pretty big in certain circles, and leaves us with film dreck like this. And though Moor does do some traveling, he's not there because he loves to travel. He does his traveling because he has to leave.

It's not hard to make a parallel between the main character and Rushdie himself, living outside of India. There is a certain allure of exile, an attractiveness of leaving it all behind you for the great unknown. I've written about this before. [And because I haven't mentioned it in a while, I'm writing here as well. Check it.] But there is this whole ideal of leaving. We call it travel, but it's probably not. It's more. It's forgetting the past to forge a future, to an extent. And that forces us to put a value judgement on the past. Which is TOUGH, isn't it?

The book's title comes from Puerto del Suspiro del Moro, the last place Muhammad XIII (who somehow was code-switched into Boabdil) stood in Spain. He was forced out of his home, the only home he knew, and his entire kingdom. His exile is certainly not a romantic ideal, but all the same, there is a poetic beauty to his Last Sigh, is there not? I can't tell if this book clashes with the Boabdil story or not. I'm still sitting here chewing on that.

Loving and Losing, I suppose, needs something to love and to lose. There's something to be said for having those things, if only to leave them. I dunno, probably a whole other post one day.

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