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Past BOTM discussions > May 20108 BOTM: The Moor's Last Sigh

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message 1: by Jen (last edited May 27, 2018 06:42PM) (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
Rushdie's 5th novel was published in 1995. It is set in the Indian cities of Bombay and Cochin.

The title is taken from the story of Boabdil (Abu Abdullah Muhammed), the last Moorish king of Granada, who is also mentioned frequently in the book. The spot from which Boabdil last looked upon Granada after surrendering is known as Puerto del Suspiro del Moro ("Pass of the Moor's Sigh"). The mother of the narrator and an artist friend of the mother's each make a painting which they call "The Moor's Last Sigh".

The book draws on a variety of real historical figures and events, including the surrender of Granada by Boabdil, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the 1993 Bombay bombings, the gangster and terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, as well as modern Indian political organizations like Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena.

Text taken from Wikipedia

Pre-reading question: What are your expectations for this book? Have you read any of Rushdie's other works? What did you think?

More questions (from the publisher's discussion guide):

1. Why does Rushdie use the device of a "double-quick" [p. 143] life for the Moor? What does the idea of such speed add to the novel? What is the significance of the Moor's deformed right hand to his character and function within the story?

2. Rushdie has stated that the idea of a portrait of a mother painted over because the father did not like it--the "lost image"--was the original inspiration for this novel. The image of the "palimpsest," a painting over which a second work has been superimposed, is central to The Moor's Last Sigh. How does the palimpsest become a metaphor for other of the novel's themes, i.e., love, God, the cultures of India?

3. Would you call Aurora a "good" mother?

4. Aurora's role as a mother is clearly central, but what about her role as wife and lover? What strategies does she use to deal with the men in her life, in particular Abraham, Vasco, and Raman Fielding? What do the notions of love, fidelity, and infidelity mean to her?

5. "Motherness is a big idea in India, maybe our biggest: the land as mother, the mother as land, as the firm ground beneath our feet" [p. 137]. In India, the mother is traditionally associated with the idea of the nation. How does Rushdie use the mythology of the mother goddess to depict his country? How did Indira Gandhi use it to propagandize her own national role, and what do you infer Rushdie's opinion of such mythmaking to be? How is Aurora made to represent the Indian nation itself in its maternal role?

6. What do the key historical events referred to by the narrator--the Spanish reconquista of Granada and the expulsion of the Moors, the founding of the spice trade between Europe and India, Portuguese colonial expansion, political events of twentieth-century India--have to do with the story of the Zogoiby and da Gama families? How do these references contribute to the story's impact?

7. "The family in the novel reflects a truth about Bombay society in the past thirty or so years," Rushdie has said. "Which is that the rich have got very much richer and the poor very much poorer." How is this economic disparity dealt with in the novel? How do the changing fortunes of the da Gama-Zogoiby clan reflect the economic condition of India? Can you find parallels with the changes that have taken place in American society over the past twenty years?

8. Do you think that Rushdie's elegiac representation of Bombay owes something to his exile from his native city? Where else in the novel does the theme of exile arise? Which characters might be considered, at one time or another, exiles

9. How does Rushdie depict Hinduism? How does Raman Fielding's Mumbai Axis distort the tenets of Hinduism [pp. 296-301], and to what purpose? Is his political/cultural agenda pure fascism, and how closely does it resemble the most famous fascist regime of the century, Adolf Hitler's? Are the Moor's reasons for joining Fielding convincing to you? Does Rushdie imply that religious fundamentalism is essentially inimical to democracy? Do you believe that Rushdie implies a link between religion and madness? Between religion and disease?

10. Rushdie has given his characters names that are resonant within Portuguese, Spanish, Jewish, and Indian culture: Abraham, Carmen, Camoens, da Gama, Prince Henry the Navigator, Isabella, Vasco, Adam Braganza, Castile, etc. What significance does each name carry within the narrative and within the thematic structure Rushdie has given his novel?

11. Over and over Rushdie stresses, through his narrator the Moor, the beauty of plurality. Speaking of his family's history, the Moor asks, "Christians, Portuguese and Jews; Chinese tiles promoting godless views; pushy ladies, skirts-not-saris, Spanish shenanigans, Moorish crownsÉcan this really be India?" [p. 87]. How does the narrator represent, in his own person, India's pluralism and the pluralism of the entire world? How does the golden age of Granada, as imagined by Aurora in her paintings, comment upon the Zogoibys' story and the political history of the late twentieth century? Is Aurora's vision confirmed or denied by the novel's events?

12. How do the changes and developments in Aurora's painting style comment upon the nature and function of the artist? What about her evolving subject matter--how does it reflect the events within her family, and the larger events occurring in the nation and the world? How does Vasco Miranda's second-rate, kitsch art contradict, or compliment, Aurora's vision?

13. Uma Sarasvati's is presented by the author and by Aurora herself as a foil to Aurora. Does her character--and the more theoretical, "post-modern" nature of her art [pp. 261-2]--function as the opposite of Aurora's, or as its compliment? Does Uma exist as a character in her own right, or purely as an incarnation of evil? Is Abraham, too, an incarnation of evil?

14. What does Rushdie imply about the position and role of women through female characters such as Aurora, Belle, Uma, Carmen, and Nadia Wadia, and what, if anything, do these women have in common? How do they use the force of their characters to redress any cultural disadvantages they might have as women? How might one describe Rushdie's vision of the balance between the sexes?

15. In his opening pages, the Moor presents himself as a variation on Dante, "without benefit or need of Virgils, in what ought to be the middle pathway of my life" [p. 4], and the structure of the book is guided in part by that of The Divine Comedy. What other works of literature--fairy tales, religious texts, mythologies, epics, plays--help to give The Moor's Last Sigh its shape? How do their themes contribute to and enrich Rushdie's own? You might refer to the list of suggested reading below.

16. How does Rushdie use the Benengeli section of the novel to explore the theme of parasitism, and do you think that he intends Benengeli to represent the parasitism of the modern world? Rushdie equates Vasco Miranda with Bram Stoker's Dracula; with Helsing, the Larios sisters, and the Benengeli Parasites he makes other references to the Dracula tale. What does he achieve by making this comparison? What does the presence of Aoi U' within Vasco's nightmarish castle signify?

17. The Moor's Last Sigh can be seen as an argument for tolerance over dogmatism, educated scepticism over intractible zeal. How does Rushdie's imagined ideal of "Mooristan" encapsulate this interpretation? Do you believe that the novel delivers a message of pessimism or of optimism?


message 2: by Chili (new)

Chili Hanson (chilipinkcat) | 59 comments I’m thinking I will like it. I have read Midnight’s Children and really liked it. So I’m looking forward to reading another Rushdie.


message 3: by Gail (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1543 comments I have never read a book by Rushdie but my expectation is that I will like it.


message 4: by Chinook (new)

Chinook | 282 comments I’ve only read Fury. I recall that his style took me time to warm to but I ended up really enjoying it. I’ve put off some of his bigger ones out of laziness because I feel I get more out of him if I’m reading more slowly and deeply. I borrowed the book, unsure if I’ll get to it.


message 5: by Pip (last edited May 27, 2018 04:16PM) (new)

Pip | 1483 comments I have tried to read Midnight's Children several times and hated Grimus, so I am expecting this one to be a slog - although the subject interests me.


message 6: by Tracy (new)

Tracy (tstan) | 559 comments I read this earlier this year. Every time I read one of his books, it takes some time to get used to his writing. But he’s got a sly sense of humor, and really makes the reader think. This one is very good, but Midnight’s Children is my favorite.


message 7: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 4265 comments Mod
I think I will like it, I only hope I have time to get to it.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments I have never read anything else by Rushdie. I am listening to it on audible and so far it is lovely. Funny, clever, smart, and beautifully written.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments I finished. In the end I still think it was beautifully written, but I didn't love the book.


message 10: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
Here are a few questions to start us off, taken from Doubleday reading guide:

1. Why does Rushdie use the device of a "double-quick" [p. 143] life for the Moor? What does the idea of such speed add to the novel? What is the significance of the Moor's deformed right hand to his character and function within the story?
2. Rushdie has stated that the idea of a portrait of a mother painted over because the father did not like it--the "lost image"--was the original inspiration for this novel. The image of the "palimpsest," a painting over which a second work has been superimposed, is central to The Moor's Last Sigh. How does the palimpsest become a metaphor for other of the novel's themes, i.e., love, God, the cultures of India?
3. Would you call Aurora a "good" mother?


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Your questions prove to me that Rushdie went right over my head, just like I said in my review. I did not get this book at all. And since I listened to the book I cannot use your page references to help me refresh my memory.

1. Why does Rushdie use the device of a "double-quick" [p. 143] life for the Moor? What does the idea of such speed add to the novel? What is the significance of the Moor's deformed right hand to his character and function within the story?

This is a total guess and probably way off. I felt the quickness leant a feeling that life for the Moor was frenetic. It felt appropriate to my admittedly Western view of India too. I remember life in the middle east feeling like an assault on my senses -- loud, filled with rich scents of spices, a bit noisy, visually stimulating, colorful. For me the pacing of this book allowed me to feel like I was there.

Is that anything like what you were looking for???

2. Rushdie has stated that the idea of a portrait of a mother painted over because the father did not like it--the "lost image"--was the original inspiration for this novel. The image of the "palimpsest," a painting over which a second work has been superimposed, is central to The Moor's Last Sigh. How does the palimpsest become a metaphor for other of the novel's themes, i.e., love, God, the cultures of India?

For me the part of the book that entertained me was the glimpses of India -- its richness of culture, multitude of religion, music, art, food. I was very excited by the way the book made me feel like I was there. I think perhaps to understand India one must look below the surface -- especially for a Westerner. It is easy to go into the middle east and Asia and see only the surface and think we know the place. This book made me see more. That was the part of it I liked.


3. Would you call Aurora a "good" mother?

By my traditional, Western view? No. But I also came away with the feeling that he knew he was loved and for me that is the most important element of motherhood, so probably she was.


message 12: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
Where are people in the book? Have you started it? Are you liking it so far? Why or why not?


message 13: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
Kelly- I took the questions from a discussion guide from the publishers. I am waiting a bit to post more bc some have spoilers (which I will cover) but I wanted to give people a bit of time to catch up to you.

I think your answers so far are good and do address the question being asked!


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Jen wrote: "Kelly- I took the questions from a discussion guide from the publishers. I am waiting a bit to post more bc some have spoilers (which I will cover) but I wanted to give people a bit of time to catc..."

That's good to know. I have very mixed feelings about this book. Parts of it are really lingering in my mind. And I am convinced that I will give it a second read sometime, hoping to digest more of it.


message 15: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
More questions (from the publisher's discussion guide):

4. Aurora's role as a mother is clearly central, but what about her role as wife and lover? What strategies does she use to deal with the men in her life, in particular Abraham, Vasco, and Raman Fielding? What do the notions of love, fidelity, and infidelity mean to her?

5. "Motherness is a big idea in India, maybe our biggest: the land as mother, the mother as land, as the firm ground beneath our feet" [p. 137]. In India, the mother is traditionally associated with the idea of the nation. How does Rushdie use the mythology of the mother goddess to depict his country? How did Indira Gandhi use it to propagandize her own national role, and what do you infer Rushdie's opinion of such mythmaking to be? How is Aurora made to represent the Indian nation itself in its maternal role?


message 16: by Daisey (new)

Daisey | 272 comments This is my first book by Rushdie, so I went into it with few expectations. I listened to the audiobook, and I really enjoyed the narration. However, I feel kind of like what Kelly mentioned above, that I missed the bigger purpose of this novel. I'm sure a major reason for that is my lack of background knowledge about the historical events in India that are included. I really enjoyed the setting, the details of the description, and some scenes made me laugh out loud. I appreciated the family saga aspect, but I didn't feel particularly drawn to any of the characters or upset when any of them died.

I did find the artwork to be an incredibly interesting part of the story, especially how it circled back to the paintings at the end. I felt like all the layers of the paintings related to all the layers of his life. His life included a mix of religious cultures, as well as his lifestyle as he was growing up with his family and then the changes after he left them.


message 17: by Diane (last edited May 25, 2018 07:38PM) (new)

Diane  | 2051 comments ***SPOILERS***

I haven't quite finished yet, so my answers may change. Books with this much symbolism tend to stress me out a bit and I often vacillate in my interpretations.

1. Why does Rushdie use the device of a "double-quick" [p. 143] life for the Moor? What does the idea of such speed add to the novel? What is the significance of the Moor's deformed right hand to his character and function within the story?

I think the Moor is supposed to represent the "new" India with his diverse blend of cultural and religious heritages. His sped up life probably represents how India, with many deep-rooted traditional ways, felt pressure to change and become modernized before it was ready to.

He was ashamed of his deformed hand up until his time in prison. It enabled him to escape further punishment and join the criminal underworld as a henchman of sorts (the "right-hand man" of a notorious religious fundamentalist), using his hand to mete punishment. His hand now represents power. He developed a new persona known as "The Hammer". I am sure there is some deeper symbolic cultural meaning concerning the hand that I am unaware of.


2. Rushdie has stated that the idea of a portrait of a mother painted over because the father did not like it--the "lost image"--was the original inspiration for this novel. The image of the "palimpsest," a painting over which a second work has been superimposed, is central to The Moor's Last Sigh. How does the palimpsest become a metaphor for other of the novel's themes, i.e., love, God, the cultures of India?

I think Isabella and Aurora represent "Mother India" or the country's cultural identity and tradition. Mothers and fertility are very symbolic in Indian folklore and mythology. Isabella possesses qualities that make her a good or ideal mother figure and thus a strong representation of the traditional India. Aurora is more of a "post-colonial" India, with looser standards, virtues, etc. She goes against what is traditionally regarded as "good Mother India". Her art is subversive and nontraditional. It represents the changes happening in India. Each layer of her art probably represents something that obscures the cultural and religious identity of India.

3. Would you call Aurora a "good" mother?

At this point of the book, definitely not. She is not a nice or sympathetic person, and seems more cold, calculating, and unfeeling. Maybe the end of the book will shed some light on why.

4. Aurora's role as a mother is clearly central, but what about her role as wife and lover? What strategies does she use to deal with the men in her life, in particular Abraham, Vasco, and Raman Fielding? What do the notions of love, fidelity, and infidelity mean to her?

Aurora lacks the traditional virtues and self-control expected in women of her culture. She seduces Abraham and then bosses him around. She, like Colonialism, forces him to adopt Christianity. Fidelity was not important to her and she had numerous affairs, some with important political figures.


message 18: by Gail (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1543 comments 1. Why does Rushdie use the device of a "double-quick" [p. 143] life for the Moor? What does the idea of such speed add to the novel? What is the significance of the Moor's deformed right hand to his character and function within the story?

I agree with Diane that the double quick life paralleled the incredibly fast cultural changes in India during Moor's lifetime. I also think it allowed Rushdie to compress the lives of all the secondary characters so that Moor could interact with them as an adult when they were still young and vital. And lastly it gave me, the reader, a sense of knowing from the get go that it could not be a happy ending. It was like reading about the protagonist driving directly toward a wall. You knew it was going to end badly but you wanted to know how it would end anyway. The hand as a hammer, represented the lost eloquence and subtly of Indian culture along with eventually representing a dumb power rather than an intellectually manipulative power. I found that Moor was in many ways and at many times "tricked" or deluded or manipulated and I think he represented a strange average Joe Indian citizen who was being manipulated by forces way beyond his control and over his head whose only response was to be heavy-handed in a riot of pain.

2. Rushdie has stated that the idea of a portrait of a mother painted over because the father did not like it--the "lost image"--was the original inspiration for this novel. The image of the "palimpsest," a painting over which a second work has been superimposed, is central to The Moor's Last Sigh. How does the palimpsest become a metaphor for other of the novel's themes, i.e., love, God, the cultures of India?

The value of a palimpsest is an interesting question. Is the original of more value than what is written over it? The book is full of layers not just of history but of retellings. Moor tells the tale one way and then goes back and tells it another. Sometimes the timeframe or perspective just shifts and the facts are the same, sometimes the facts change as his eyes are opened to issues he did not at first see or understand. The India of the novel is forever being layered also. The old India does not get wiped away, rather more and more gets layered on it.

3. Would you call Aurora a "good" mother?
As Kelly said, not in a traditional western sense. However, she was strong and wise and able to reflect a hugely varied culture's desires and fears in her art. She loved Moor and he loved her but not in any traditional mother/son way and as a representative of Mother India, she persevered in the face of many truly horrible realities before dancing to her death.

4. Aurora's role as a mother is clearly central, but what about her role as wife and lover? What strategies does she use to deal with the men in her life, in particular Abraham, Vasco, and Raman Fielding? What do the notions of love, fidelity, and infidelity mean to her?

Rushdie allowed me to be slightly more open to various interpretations of Aurora's fidelities. I believed her to be betraying her husband as he betrayed her, but even at the very end it was not clear to what extent it was a sexual liaison and if so was it for power or desire. She loved Abraham at one time and then may have continued to love him for some sense of the past or for reliability up until close to the end.

5. "Motherness is a big idea in India, maybe our biggest: the land as mother, the mother as land, as the firm ground beneath our feet" [p. 137]. In India, the mother is traditionally associated with the idea of the nation. How does Rushdie use the mythology of the mother goddess to depict his country? How did Indira Gandhi use it to propagandize her own national role, and what do you infer Rushdie's opinion of such mythmaking to be? How is Aurora made to represent the Indian nation itself in its maternal role?

I unfortunately do not have a good understanding of Indian history other than the larger facts translated through western views. I missed quite a few references because of this lack. I think a native reader would have known who everyone in the book represented in history but I didn't catch many of these. I have been to India and women are not treated well in the streets and in many social settings. When I did business there, the women were as well educated, as dynamic and as powerful as the men so the culture is clearly able to elevate above previous constraints. Also, the gods of Hindu India have a very interesting representation of women in that they represent live and death not just life. The Mother India is therefore rather suspect to me. Perhaps from the get go Rushdie was making fun of Indira Gandhi and her alignment with the mother. Certainly she doesn't come across as someone we should have sympathy for in this book. Aurora on the other hand, I did have sympathy for even though she was not exactly "good". There is something hinted at in the book that one does not get to make a choice about one's mother. There are at least 2 characters in the book who attempt to change their parents or at least live as if they had different parents and that doesn't work out for them. Even Moor's father is in question at times. However, there is a very solid connection between Moor and Aurora and I got the impression that this reflects Rushdie's relationship with his country. He doesn't wish to love her but he does.


message 19: by Diane (new)

Diane  | 2051 comments Rating: 4 Stars

I finally finished and did like the book a lot. I liked Midnight's Children more, but I like The Moor's Last Sigh better than his other books I have read. The heavy symbolism made it far from a leisurely read, since I felt I needed to analyze each sentence to find the allegories and metaphors.


message 20: by Pip (new)

Pip | 1483 comments 1. As soon as "double-quick" is introduced as a concept we know that we are in the realm of magic realism. As far as I am concerned it initially had me thinking "here we go again" Rushdie is playing with the reader. But this time I developed awe of Rushdie. His use of language as a plaything, his mockery of Indian English, his literary allusions, most of which I missed I am sure, and his dead-eye satirising of religious extremism won me over and I was prepared to go along for the ride - something I just have been unable to do before in my multiple attempts to read Midnight's Children. I felt that the Moor's fast aging was a plot device to keep the narrative moving quickly, I had not thought that it might be symbolic of how quickly India is changing. The malformed hand made the Moor different. He changed from a passive, conciliatory fellow into a ruthless enforcer when he realised his hand could be an effective weapon and when he was in a situation where he needed to be tough.
2. At last I can remember what palimpsest means! It is such a strange word. The idea is raised, towards the end, that a decision has to be made about the relative worth of the original hidden work of art, or the piece that is superimposed. There are lots of examples of whether the second view of things is better than the first. For example, the way that the Moor feels about his great love, Uma, before and after he realises that she is a confidence trickster.
3. She was a charismatic woman who went her own way: plotting to kill her grandmother as a young girl, wilfully choosing a mate without a care about social conventions, and disowning her son on the evidence presented by Uma, who appeared to me to be utterly deranged. But she had a close relationship with her son, not the least because she had him sit for her for a huge number of paintings. She was the most important influence in his life.
4. She loved Abraham to begin with, but they went their separate ways when she realised that he was trafficking young religious devotees into prostitution, as you do! She did not inquire, nor interfere with his business as he became more and more wicked. She apparently had a number of lovers, important figures (including Jawaharlal Nehru! In the end it was the careless way that she handled her relationships with Vasco and Fielding which led to her demise and that of her son.
5. I think Aurora was a symbol of India, but not the one of a devoted mother which is the usual metaphor. I remember an Indian friend of mine who told me that his childhood was made miserable by his mother, who ruled the household with illogical determination. He was able to forgive her for her cruelties later in life because he realised that the only power she had was in the home. Aurora is perhaps a new dawn for India, a woman who chooses her own destiny, like a woman who escapes from male domination to live her life on her own terms.


message 21: by Pip (new)

Pip | 1483 comments I also want to mention Rushdie's wonderful use of language. For example the Cashondeliveri company which feels as if it could really be an Indian word. Also the many literary allusions such as "hellbat Desdemona to my Moor" or "with a tin man, a toothsome scarecrow and a cowardly frog". There were also real events, such as the sacking of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the underworld of Mumbai and the brutal mob killings that really took place. Rushdie shows his contempt for religious absolutism in many ways but this quote is apt "I'll tell you a secret about fear: it's an absolutist. with fear, it's all or nothing. Either, like any bullying tyrant, it rules your life with a stupid blinding omnipotence, or else you overthrow it, and it's power vanishes in a puff of smoke". So there, to fatwahs!


message 22: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
Here are the final questions. Take a stab at them. If you haven't already, post your final review here too.

6. What do the key historical events referred to by the narrator--the Spanish reconquista of Granada and the expulsion of the Moors, the founding of the spice trade between Europe and India, Portuguese colonial expansion, political events of twentieth-century India--have to do with the story of the Zogoiby and da Gama families? How do these references contribute to the story's impact?

7. "The family in the novel reflects a truth about Bombay society in the past thirty or so years," Rushdie has said. "Which is that the rich have got very much richer and the poor very much poorer." How is this economic disparity dealt with in the novel? How do the changing fortunes of the da Gama-Zogoiby clan reflect the economic condition of India? Can you find parallels with the changes that have taken place in American society over the past twenty years?

8. Do you think that Rushdie's elegiac representation of Bombay owes something to his exile from his native city? Where else in the novel does the theme of exile arise? Which characters might be considered, at one time or another, exiles

9. How does Rushdie depict Hinduism? How does Raman Fielding's Mumbai Axis distort the tenets of Hinduism [pp. 296-301], and to what purpose? Is his political/cultural agenda pure fascism, and how closely does it resemble the most famous fascist regime of the century, Adolf Hitler's? Are the Moor's reasons for joining Fielding convincing to you? Does Rushdie imply that religious fundamentalism is essentially inimical to democracy? Do you believe that Rushdie implies a link between religion and madness? Between religion and disease?

10. Rushdie has given his characters names that are resonant within Portuguese, Spanish, Jewish, and Indian culture: Abraham, Carmen, Camoens, da Gama, Prince Henry the Navigator, Isabella, Vasco, Adam Braganza, Castile, etc. What significance does each name carry within the narrative and within the thematic structure Rushdie has given his novel?

11. Over and over Rushdie stresses, through his narrator the Moor, the beauty of plurality. Speaking of his family's history, the Moor asks, "Christians, Portuguese and Jews; Chinese tiles promoting godless views; pushy ladies, skirts-not-saris, Spanish shenanigans, Moorish crownsÉcan this really be India?" [p. 87]. How does the narrator represent, in his own person, India's pluralism and the pluralism of the entire world? How does the golden age of Granada, as imagined by Aurora in her paintings, comment upon the Zogoibys' story and the political history of the late twentieth century? Is Aurora's vision confirmed or denied by the novel's events?

12. How do the changes and developments in Aurora's painting style comment upon the nature and function of the artist? What about her evolving subject matter--how does it reflect the events within her family, and the larger events occurring in the nation and the world? How does Vasco Miranda's second-rate, kitsch art contradict, or compliment, Aurora's vision?

13. Uma Sarasvati's is presented by the author and by Aurora herself as a foil to Aurora. Does her character--and the more theoretical, "post-modern" nature of her art [pp. 261-2]--function as the opposite of Aurora's, or as its compliment? Does Uma exist as a character in her own right, or purely as an incarnation of evil? Is Abraham, too, an incarnation of evil?

14. What does Rushdie imply about the position and role of women through female characters such as Aurora, Belle, Uma, Carmen, and Nadia Wadia, and what, if anything, do these women have in common? How do they use the force of their characters to redress any cultural disadvantages they might have as women? How might one describe Rushdie's vision of the balance between the sexes?

15. In his opening pages, the Moor presents himself as a variation on Dante, "without benefit or need of Virgils, in what ought to be the middle pathway of my life" [p. 4], and the structure of the book is guided in part by that of The Divine Comedy. What other works of literature--fairy tales, religious texts, mythologies, epics, plays--help to give The Moor's Last Sigh its shape? How do their themes contribute to and enrich Rushdie's own? You might refer to the list of suggested reading below.

16. How does Rushdie use the Benengeli section of the novel to explore the theme of parasitism, and do you think that he intends Benengeli to represent the parasitism of the modern world? Rushdie equates Vasco Miranda with Bram Stoker's Dracula; with Helsing, the Larios sisters, and the Benengeli Parasites he makes other references to the Dracula tale. What does he achieve by making this comparison? What does the presence of Aoi U' within Vasco's nightmarish castle signify?

17. The Moor's Last Sigh can be seen as an argument for tolerance over dogmatism, educated scepticism over intractible zeal. How does Rushdie's imagined ideal of "Mooristan" encapsulate this interpretation? Do you believe that the novel delivers a message of pessimism or of optimism?


message 23: by Pip (new)

Pip | 1483 comments 6. By weaving real and imagined events together the families are rooted in reality. For example, the De Gama family was of Portuguese extraction. The Portuguese were colonisers up and down the West coast of India, especially in Goa, but also in Cochin, or Kochi which was taken over by the Portuguese in 1503, the Catholic church followed soon after. So the de Gama's were considered aliens (to use a current American term), even though the Dutch and English subsequently conquered India. The spice trade was a very lucrative business, so it was plausible that the de Gamas flourished. I had hoped that there would be more about the reconquest of Spain and the demise of the Moorish adventure in Spain, about which I know very little, but because I know so little and I am unsure about what really happened, I am unsure about how it impacted the family. The town in Spain, Benengeli, where the Moor ends up, is named after the fictional Cide Hamete Benengeli who is the invention of Cervantes. The sacking of the Golden Temple is mentioned obliquely, so any Indian reading the story would recognise it, also Bal Thackeray is probably rendered as Fielding. There really was a Miss World from India in 1987, but with a different name, of course.
7. The economic disparity in India has traditionally been much wider than in many other countries. I really can't comment on what has happened in Mumbai in the last thirty years (I am wondering when this quote from Rushdie was made) but in many Western countries which have embraced neoliberalism the gap between rich and poor has widened exponentially. Trickle down didn't.
8. Bombay, or Mumbai, is a compelling place. I have friends who love living there. Rushdie has been lying low in England and the U.S. since the fatwah and must feel exiled. The Moor exiled himself to Spain, to a replica of the Alhambra, which is ironic, considering his nickname. Miranda Vasco did too. The sister who entered a convent exiled herself from family life.
9. Rushdie mentions Hitler "these Mainduck-style little Hitlers" and says that we have collective guilt for their misdeeds. It is not enough to label them monsters because that lets everyone else off the hook. His character Fielding is determined to create an India for the Hindus, but he eats meat, and professes to be a philistine, but actually collects art. So Rushdie is pointing out the hypocrisies of a fanatic. I think his message is very strongly expressed that religion is fundamentalist and dangerous.
10. Abraham is the essential Jew, Camoens was the most famous Portuguese poet; da Gama is the most famous explorer, Vasco, and Prince Henry the Navigator was the Portuguese prince who sponsored the voyages of discovery, although he didn't do any exploring himself. Isabella of Castile was known, among other things, for completing the Reconquista. Braganza is a famous house of Braga, Portugal. Zogoiby means "the unfortunate one" and was the surname applied to King Boabdil, the last Moor to be King of Spain. Aurora means dawn, so I have suggested elsewhere that her image as Mother India may indicate a new beginning. All these names are redolent with meaning, which suggests that they are all ciphers.


message 24: by Jen (new)

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
I love Rushdie's writing and I've been reading through this book very slowly in order to research as a I read and take it all in. Rushdie is not an author to speed-read though and if you do rush through it, you'll miss the richness of the text, the symbolism, and the meaning he is trying to get across.. Every sentence has significance, all the names mean something, the locations are important and the conflicts between characters reflect conflict between groups/nations/cultures/religions, etc.

I'm enjoying reading Pip's answers as they highlight some of the info I'm finding out as I read and research. I've finding the book an interesting read and quite time-consuming so I hope to pick up the pace and finish it before the end of the month.


message 25: by Book (new)

Book Wormy | 2082 comments Mod
Pre-reading question: What are your expectations for this book? Have you read any of Rushdie's other works? What did you think? I have read and loved Midnight's Children and Grimus so had high hopes for this.

More questions (from the publisher's discussion guide):

1. Why does Rushdie use the device of a "double-quick" [p. 143] life for the Moor? What does the idea of such speed add to the novel? What is the significance of the Moor's deformed right hand to his character and function within the story?
Double time show cases Rushdie'd use of magical realism and like the others have mentioned it shows the fast pace of changes in India at the time. The right hand becomes a weapon that allows Moor to live independently from his parents.


2. Rushdie has stated that the idea of a portrait of a mother painted over because the father did not like it--the "lost image"--was the original inspiration for this novel. The image of the "palimpsest," a painting over which a second work has been superimposed, is central to The Moor's Last Sigh. How does the palimpsest become a metaphor for other of the novel's themes, i.e., love, God, the cultures of India?
The West seeks to paint it's values over traditional life in India then India paints it's values back over Western culture. The Jewish father gives up his faith to marry the teenager. Legitimate business is used to paint over drugs and arms deals

3. Would you call Aurora a "good" mother?
No she is a great artist and an inspiration but she is not nurturing, caring or understanding enough to be classed as a good mother

4. Aurora's role as a mother is clearly central, but what about her role as wife and lover? What strategies does she use to deal with the men in her life, in particular Abraham, Vasco, and Raman Fielding? What do the notions of love, fidelity, and infidelity mean to her?
Aurora uses attraction to manipulate the men in her life inspiring loyalty and obsession, as a wife she turns a blind eye to her husbands dodgy dealings and instead concentrates on her own rising star

5. "Motherness is a big idea in India, maybe our biggest: the land as mother, the mother as land, as the firm ground beneath our feet" [p. 137]. In India, the mother is traditionally associated with the idea of the nation. How does Rushdie use the mythology of the mother goddess to depict his country? How did Indira Gandhi use it to propagandize her own national role, and what do you infer Rushdie's opinion of such mythmaking to be? How is Aurora made to represent the Indian nation itself in its maternal role?
Indira Gandhi was a mother figure using the idea of mother India to bolster her popularity. Aurora is a selfish mother who expects her children to be independent she tells the history of family and events in India through her paintings and they are frequently controversial. If we assume Aurora's opinion is Rushdie's opinion then he doesn't have much time for the myth making.

6. What do the key historical events referred to by the narrator--the Spanish reconquista of Granada and the expulsion of the Moors, the founding of the spice trade between Europe and India, Portuguese colonial expansion, political events of twentieth-century India--have to do with the story of the Zogoiby and da Gama families? How do these references contribute to the story's impact?
The spice trade is important as it is the family business and it is what makes Abraham rich and a superpower within India. Political events show how the family split and pursue different interests the idea of Bombay as a city of culture and mixed religions living happily together is blown apart by the end of the book. These references make the family feel real and give them a sense of place.

7. "The family in the novel reflects a truth about Bombay society in the past thirty or so years," Rushdie has said. "Which is that the rich have got very much richer and the poor very much poorer." How is this economic disparity dealt with in the novel? How do the changing fortunes of the da Gama-Zogoiby clan reflect the economic condition of India? Can you find parallels with the changes that have taken place in American society over the past twenty years?
Abraham a poor clerk gets richer and richer by dubious business deals before eventually losing it all. The da Gama's start out with money and due to poor management and family feuding lose it all. I can't remember specific examples of the poor getting poorer or the wider Indian economy.

8. Do you think that Rushdie's elegiac representation of Bombay owes something to his exile from his native city? Where else in the novel does the theme of exile arise? Which characters might be considered, at one time or another, exiles
Abraham as a Jew is an exile and an outsider. Moor always feels like an outsider due to his heritage. Vasco exiles himself from India. The Frog exiles himself from everyone allowing only trusted people to see him. The family split causes the da Gama's to live in exile in effect in their own house

9. How does Rushdie depict Hinduism? How does Raman Fielding's Mumbai Axis distort the tenets of Hinduism [pp. 296-301], and to what purpose? Is his political/cultural agenda pure fascism, and how closely does it resemble the most famous fascist regime of the century, Adolf Hitler's? Are the Moor's reasons for joining Fielding convincing to you? Does Rushdie imply that religious fundamentalism is essentially inimical to democracy? Do you believe that Rushdie implies a link between religion and madness? Between religion and disease?
Moor joins Fielding because that is his only choice at the time so that is convincing to me.

10. Rushdie has given his characters names that are resonant within Portuguese, Spanish, Jewish, and Indian culture: Abraham, Carmen, Camoens, da Gama, Prince Henry the Navigator, Isabella, Vasco, Adam Braganza, Castile, etc. What significance does each name carry within the narrative and within the thematic structure Rushdie has given his novel?
hmmmm

11. Over and over Rushdie stresses, through his narrator the Moor, the beauty of plurality. Speaking of his family's history, the Moor asks, "Christians, Portuguese and Jews; Chinese tiles promoting godless views; pushy ladies, skirts-not-saris, Spanish shenanigans, Moorish crownsÉcan this really be India?" [p. 87]. How does the narrator represent, in his own person, India's pluralism and the pluralism of the entire world? How does the golden age of Granada, as imagined by Aurora in her paintings, comment upon the Zogoibys' story and the political history of the late twentieth century? Is Aurora's vision confirmed or denied by the novel's events?
Aurora has several visions some are confirmed and some are not.

12. How do the changes and developments in Aurora's painting style comment upon the nature and function of the artist? What about her evolving subject matter--how does it reflect the events within her family, and the larger events occurring in the nation and the world? How does Vasco Miranda's second-rate, kitsch art contradict, or compliment, Aurora's vision?
Aurora paints what she knows and what she knows changes. Things in the country change and things in her family change her art changes to reflect this. Vasco's work is commercial and popular which is a foil for Aurora's "higher" art

13. Uma Sarasvati's is presented by the author and by Aurora herself as a foil to Aurora. Does her character--and the more theoretical, "post-modern" nature of her art [pp. 261-2]--function as the opposite of Aurora's, or as its compliment? Does Uma exist as a character in her own right, or purely as an incarnation of evil? Is Abraham, too, an incarnation of evil?
Uma's art compliments Aurora's as she is showing the world as she sees it much like Aurora does. In terms of the novel Uma is the grand love and the destruction of the more she is not a pure evil as she is human. Abraham loses his humanness and does become pure evil in the end.

14. What does Rushdie imply about the position and role of women through female characters such as Aurora, Belle, Uma, Carmen, and Nadia Wadia, and what, if anything, do these women have in common? How do they use the force of their characters to redress any cultural disadvantages they might have as women? How might one describe Rushdie's vision of the balance between the sexes?
Rushdie's women are strong and a force to be reckoned with they have their own goals and know how to use their assets (beauty) to achieve them. In this book it is the women who have the upper hand and the power because they make their own choices.

15. In his opening pages, the Moor presents himself as a variation on Dante, "without benefit or need of Virgils, in what ought to be the middle pathway of my life" [p. 4], and the structure of the book is guided in part by that of The Divine Comedy. What other works of literature--fairy tales, religious texts, mythologies, epics, plays--help to give The Moor's Last Sigh its shape? How do their themes contribute to and enrich Rushdie's own? You might refer to the list of suggested reading below.
The only reference I can really remember is to the wizard of Oz which is a story about a journey of self discovery

16. How does Rushdie use the Benengeli section of the novel to explore the theme of parasitism, and do you think that he intends Benengeli to represent the parasitism of the modern world? Rushdie equates Vasco Miranda with Bram Stoker's Dracula; with Helsing, the Larios sisters, and the Benengeli Parasites he makes other references to the Dracula tale. What does he achieve by making this comparison? What does the presence of Aoi U' within Vasco's nightmarish castle signify?
Expats or refugees are seen as parasites in the countries they decide to settle in.

17. The Moor's Last Sigh can be seen as an argument for tolerance over dogmatism, educated scepticism over intractible zeal. How does Rushdie's imagined ideal of "Mooristan" encapsulate this interpretation? Do you believe that the novel delivers a message of pessimism or of optimism?
For me the book is pessimistic as the centre of cultural diversity that is Bombay is destroyed


message 26: by Gail (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1543 comments 6. What do the key historical events referred to by the narrator--the Spanish reconquista of Granada and the expulsion of the Moors, the founding of the spice trade between Europe and India, Portuguese colonial expansion, political events of twentieth-century India--have to do with the story of the Zogoiby and da Gama families? How do these references contribute to the story's impact?

For me, they placed these extreme characters in a historical world. They also set one of the major themes of the book which is the layering of cultures. Rushdie is an advocate for pluralism and during historical times where there was a commingling of people the world saw cultural riches, in particular the Arabs in Spain are know for their incredible buildings, modern mathematics and philosophy and a rich mix of people. When the Moors left it led to the a singular and restricted view of culture which led to the expulsion of the Jews and anyone else who was not Catholic of a very specific variety. Colonial commingling of cultures has generally speaking not been seen as a good thing in liberal western history but nevertheless it brought different people together which sent the world going "double click".

7. "The family in the novel reflects a truth about Bombay society in the past thirty or so years," Rushdie has said. "Which is that the rich have got very much richer and the poor very much poorer." How is this economic disparity dealt with in the novel? How do the changing fortunes of the da Gama-Zogoiby clan reflect the economic condition of India? Can you find parallels with the changes that have taken place in American society over the past twenty years?

I believe that the Middle Class in India really didn't exist 100 years ago and now it is the largest in the world. However, the "poor" have definitely been left behind and are now more aware of what they do not have. "It is god's will" probably doesn't cover it anymore. I don't know enough about India to speculate more than that. However, we are certainly seeing a rise of populist sentiment in the world that many have surmised is coming from a sense of being left behind.

8. Do you think that Rushdie's elegiac representation of Bombay owes something to his exile from his native city? Where else in the novel does the theme of exile arise? Which characters might be considered, at one time or another, exiles

I think Bombay, like many huge cities in any country, is a magnet for people leaving their small towns to find opportunity. In this way, Bombay is a city of exiles. Vasco Miranda is an exiled person and certainly Moor is but in a way the whole Zoigoby clan has been exiled from their native place 100's of years ago.

9. How does Rushdie depict Hinduism? How does Raman Fielding's Mumbai Axis distort the tenets of Hinduism [pp. 296-301], and to what purpose? Is his political/cultural agenda pure fascism, and how closely does it resemble the most famous fascist regime of the century, Adolf Hitler's? Are the Moor's reasons for joining Fielding convincing to you? Does Rushdie imply that religious fundamentalism is essentially inimical to democracy? Do you believe that Rushdie implies a link between religion and madness? Between religion and disease?

Oh boy, well certainly Raman Fielding leads a Hindu paramilitary group of fundamentalists and like many fundamentalists they have a way of ignoring many of the core tenants of their religion to focus on the "being in the right" and gaining power. For example, Raman ate cow. I am not sure about Rushdie's linking religion and madness or religion and disease. He definitely plays constantly with conflicting aspects of human nature. He plays a great deal with the appearance of things against the reality of things. In Aurora's huge painting in the beginning of the book, there was no God in evidence. Perhaps Rushdie, although born a Muslim, now believes that God is a delusion and that like many delusions it can't be good for you.

10. Rushdie has given his characters names that are resonant within Portuguese, Spanish, Jewish, and Indian culture: Abraham, Carmen, Camoens, da Gama, Prince Henry the Navigator, Isabella, Vasco, Adam Braganza, Castile, etc. What significance does each name carry within the narrative and within the thematic structure Rushdie has given his novel?

One gets the impression, or at least I got the impression that every little thing in the book has meaning. Many of these names are the first to do something and they reflect the tie ins with the Moorish culture on the Iberian peninsula.

11. Over and over Rushdie stresses, through his narrator the Moor, the beauty of plurality. Speaking of his family's history, the Moor asks, "Christians, Portuguese and Jews; Chinese tiles promoting godless views; pushy ladies, skirts-not-saris, Spanish shenanigans, Moorish crownsÉcan this really be India?" [p. 87]. How does the narrator represent, in his own person, India's pluralism and the pluralism of the entire world? How does the golden age of Granada, as imagined by Aurora in her paintings, comment upon the Zogoibys' story and the political history of the late twentieth century? Is Aurora's vision confirmed or denied by the novel's events?

I answered this a bit above. And yes, some of Aurora's visions do predict upcoming changes such as the death of pluralism in India (and in her family) which predicts a separatism in colonial India and later a despair in India regarding Muslim/Hindu conflict.

12. How do the changes and developments in Aurora's painting style comment upon the nature and function of the artist? What about her evolving subject matter--how does it reflect the events within her family, and the larger events occurring in the nation and the world? How does Vasco Miranda's second-rate, kitsch art contradict, or compliment, Aurora's vision?

Both Aurora and Vasco's pictures reflect much of what is going on in India. She paints a romantic / plural/ somewhat tolerant (in relation to her son in the early relationship) and very hybrid nation. Vasco paints a commercial version of the same especially when he was doing the early cartoons. The are both left behind by the ugly reality of the modern world.

13. Uma Sarasvati's is presented by the author and by Aurora herself as a foil to Aurora. Does her character--and the more theoretical, "post-modern" nature of her art [pp. 261-2]--function as the opposite of Aurora's, or as its compliment? Does Uma exist as a character in her own right, or purely as an incarnation of evil? Is Abraham, too, an incarnation of evil?

I think it compliments Aurora's art. I think Uma needed to get rid of Aurora because, they were too close in terms of their reputation and their ego's and their talents. I also did not see Uma as the incarnation of evil. I saw her as someone incredibly manipulative and slightly delusional. She was clearly only out for her own rewards and it was interesting that a big reward for her would be to destroy the whole family. Also, I saw her qualities well before Moor did, although he does say that he was in love and therefore did not want to see her negative nature. It is an interesting literary device in a non-mystery book, to have the reader know what the MC does not yet know.

14. What does Rushdie imply about the position and role of women through female characters such as Aurora, Belle, Uma, Carmen, and Nadia Wadia, and what, if anything, do these women have in common? How do they use the force of their characters to redress any cultural disadvantages they might have as women? How might one describe Rushdie's vision of the balance between the sexes?

I think that the male/female balance is part of Rushdie's love of duality. I think in this book he loved his female characters a bit more than the male ones. They were less cartoons than the males. Or maybe that is only me. At any rate, I think he made them stronger then the men in many ways.

15. In his opening pages, the Moor presents himself as a variation on Dante, "without benefit or need of Virgils, in what ought to be the middle pathway of my life" [p. 4], and the structure of the book is guided in part by that of The Divine Comedy. What other works of literature--fairy tales, religious texts, mythologies, epics, plays--help to give The Moor's Last Sigh its shape? How do their themes contribute to and enrich Rushdie's own? You might refer to the list of suggested reading below.

Too many to count. I felt as if I was missing huge sections of the book because I wasn't getting the references. I stopped frequently to look things up but it is difficult to look up a reference that is hidden under a different name. Cash on delivery (Cashodeliveri) for example is probably a stand in for a real commercial outfit but I have no idea what it would be. He does refer to Shakespeare and the Greeks and as Pip mentioned The Wizard of Oz.

16. How does Rushdie use the Benengeli section of the novel to explore the theme of parasitism, and do you think that he intends Benengeli to represent the parasitism of the modern world? Rushdie equates Vasco Miranda with Bram Stoker's Dracula; with Helsing, the Larios sisters, and the Benengeli Parasites he makes other references to the Dracula tale. What does he achieve by making this comparison? What does the presence of Aoi U' within Vasco's nightmarish castle signify?

I found the ending to be very strange. I think the all vowel Aoi, (innocent) was perhaps needed to bare witness to the Moor's corruption as he confesses much to her. Also, the amount of blood in the end mirrored the Dracula/Van Helsing myths. To me the Parasites really reflected a complete modern despair. Here is an author who believes in plurality and yet when the world becomes global all that one gets (at least in Benengeli) are rootless people with no sense of place in the world and absent any integrity.

17. The Moor's Last Sigh can be seen as an argument for tolerance over dogmatism, educated scepticism over intractible zeal. How does Rushdie's imagined ideal of "Mooristan" encapsulate this interpretation? Do you believe that the novel delivers a message of pessimism or of optimism?

Other than the very nature of his language, the jaunty wordplay of his writing, I found the message to be largely one of complete despair.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Pip wrote: "6. By weaving real and imagined events together the families are rooted in reality. For example, the De Gama family was of Portuguese extraction. The Portuguese were colonisers up and down the West..."

Wow! Pip you got so much out of this. I almost always use audio and normally follow perfectly but this one I think I need a dead-tree version to get more from it. One day I will try again and I am going to use your thoughts to help me out.


message 28: by Pip (new)

Pip | 1483 comments I would love an annotated version of this book! There are many references I have missed for sure.


message 29: by Gail (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1543 comments Yes, that would be great. Although everyone else’s comments have helped.


message 30: by Pip (new)

Pip | 1483 comments 13. I did not see Uma as an incarnation of evil, but I am sure I did not entirely grasp what she signifies because I was not clear what her motive was in seducing Camoens in the first place. I also thought her swallowing of the wrong pill enigmatic. She appeared more of a confidence trickster enjoying her ability to hoodwink people. Abraham represented how power corrupts. He started off as a lowly clerk but was able to use his position in the company to gather more and more power around him and to become involved with more and more corrupt and evil practices.
17. I absolutely agree with the "argument for tolerance over dogmatism and educated scepticism over intractible zeal", which is a marvellous description. I really don't think that the novel has a message of either pessimism or optimism, I just thought that Rushdie's wonderful imagination described how dangerous zealots are.


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