A happy accident lead to me reading this – and getting to visit Birmingham library (which still didn’t have a copy of On Beauty by Zadie Smith which I’ve been looking out for for ages – I’m sure it was in my local one once but has since alluded me) – because I forgot to take a second book away with me after Mao II last week (made even worse because of how disappointing Mao II actually was). I read Midnight’s Children a couple of years ago, but I’m slightly ashamed to say that that’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge of Salman Rushdie (except knowing that I should know a lot more about him with the Satanic Verses/fatwa).
Wikipedia says that Rushdie combines magical realism and historical fiction, and also embarrassingly I can’t vouch much for the latter because my knowledge of Indian history is very poor, in both novels I could identify that his characters’ fates are intertwined with notable historical events – although you’d hope so, because you can’t get more obvious than Saleem in Midnight’s Children being one of the hundreds of children born at the same time as India got its independence. The Moor’s Last Sigh charts the family history of the eponymous ‘Moor’ – Moraes Zogoiby, his mother, celebrated painter Aurora, her business savvy mother and slightly tragic father and his parents; back to the beginning of their family spice empire, which Bella resurrects after joining the family, as her new husband’s relatives have let it fall into dismay. The business is picked up again by Aurora’s Jewish husband Abraham Zogoiby, who manages to restore its former wealth and then some, making it one of the biggest companies in India and using it as a front for illicit funds from drugs, prostitution and other underworld-y dealings.
As if the dealings of the Zogoiby family aren’t eccentric enough, Moor, Aurora’s youngest child, grows at double speed: not permitted to attend school because as an infant he looks like a teenager, nearing the end of his life as a 35 year old in mind, but 70 year old in body. Born with a disfigured right hand and possessed with this supernatural growth, Moraes’ would be something of a charmed life in any setting, but with his famous mother and gang lord father, not to mention the range of artists and celebrities frequenting their house and the odd characters with whom Aurora surrounds herself (one such character is an ex-navy man whose leg she once – accidentally – ran over repeatedly until it was severed/had to be amputated, who she then appointed as watchman of their estate and gifted a parrot to play on his new nickname as an Indian Long John Silver), Rushdie weaves an intricate and very amusing tale. So on the whole it was a very happy accident that led me to forget another book and get the chance to read this, because it was a good read – I think I enjoyed it more than Midnight’s Children because I found it easier to read and preferred the characters – but they were both good to be fair.