Family in Rushdie and Mo

Noah M. Landow

Despite their radically different styles, Rushdie and Mo share central concerns with the related concepts of family and shame. Both novelists believe that to describe a person, one must describe the history of the person's family. For example, in Sour Sweet Mo tells the family history of the Chens through the story of Lily and her father. He does so to explain the motivations of characters like Lily and her husband, Chen. When Lily reminisces about her childhood, she is explaining the sources of her beliefs and actions. When, for instance, she is shocked by Man Kee's teacher's reprimand for his "dirty" fighting, we understand not only our Western point of view but also Lily's.

In Shame , Rushdie similarly tells the family history of his central characters; he opens the book, for instance, with the history of Omar Shakil and his mothers. This history of his mothers and his birth explains very clearly, even more so than his early childhood experiences, the causes of shamelessness. Rushdie also relates the history of Sufiya Zinobia through her parents and grandparents. Because of the interrelation of almost all the characters in this book, he is able to explain the histories of many characters while only actually telling one. For example, he tells the story surrounding the meeting of Bilqus and Raza Hyder, her parents, and the death of Bilqus' father. This story explains not only the feelings and actions of Bilqus and Raza but also those, however limited and twisted, of Sufiya herself. Thus, by relating how their characters came to be, both Rushdie and Mo are able to explain those characters' motivations subtly and concisely.


Mo's Sour Sweet United Kingdom Overview