Victory City: A Novel

Victory City: A Novel

by Salman Rushdie Salman Rushdie
Victory City: A Novel

Victory City: A Novel

by Salman Rushdie Salman Rushdie


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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER ¿ The epic tale of a woman who breathes a fantastical empire into existence, only to be consumed by it over the centuries-from the transcendent imagination of Booker Prize-winning, internationally bestselling author Salman Rushdie

Victory City is a triumph-not because it exists, but because it is utterly enchanting.”-The Atlantic

Salman Rushdie is one of Time's 100 Most Influential People of the Year

In the wake of an unimportant battle between two long-forgotten kingdoms in fourteenth-century southern India, a nine-year-old girl has a divine encounter that will change the course of history. After witnessing the death of her mother, the grief-stricken Pampa Kampana becomes a vessel for a goddess, who begins to speak out of the girl's mouth. Granting her powers beyond Pampa Kampana's comprehension, the goddess tells her that she will be instrumental in the rise of a great city called Bisnaga-“victory city”-the wonder of the world.

Over the next 250 years, Pampa Kampana's life becomes deeply interwoven with Bisnaga's, from its literal sowing from a bag of magic seeds to its tragic ruination in the most human of ways: the hubris of those in power. Whispering Bisnaga and its citizens into existence, Pampa Kampana attempts to make good on the task that the goddess set for her: to give women equal agency in a patriarchal world. But all stories have a way of getting away from their creator, and Bisnaga is no exception. As years pass, rulers come and go, battles are won and lost, and allegiances shift, the very fabric of Bisnaga becomes an ever more complex tapestry-with Pampa Kampana at its center.

Brilliantly styled as a translation of an ancient epic, Victory City is a saga of love, adventure, and myth that is in itself a testament to the power of storytelling.

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Editorial Reviews

MARCH 2023 - AudioFile

Rushdie's latest novel defies easy description. It is magical realism and myth, historical fiction and fable, all centered around the life story of Pampa Kampana, queen of Vijayanagar--Victory City--in southern India. Narrator Sid Sagar embraces the tone of this audiobook; within moments of its opening, his performance invites listeners to suspend disbelief and step into an entirely different world. Sagar's confidence contributes to the appeal of the tale: A strong pace and the bold delivery of both action and dialogue invite the most skeptical listener to enjoy traditional storytelling at its finest. Sagar's narrative skill spans drama, humor, and suspense with equal alacrity, and the effect is thoroughly engaging. With his mellifluous voice and fearless approach, Sagar makes Victory City a destination for a variety of listeners. L.B.F. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2023, Portland, Maine

Publishers Weekly


Rushdie (Midnight’s Children) conjures a rich if undercooked story of a doomed empire and its creator, a woman who lived to be 247. A Sanskrit manuscript is found buried in a clay pot in present-day southern India. On it is a narrative poem by Pampa Kampana, who, as a child in the 14th century, is granted magical abilities by a goddess to empower women. After nine silent years in a cave, Pampa is visited by two soldiers turned cowherds. Pampa hands them a sack of seeds and instructs them to “grow a city.” Through their work, Pampa conjures the city of Bisnaga, where people are “born full-grown from the brown earth.” Though Bisnaga’s palace guards are strong and noble women, the male soldiers sent out to conquer the surrounding lands are greedy and ruthless. Having taken a turn away from the promise early on of a feminine utopia, the novel grows ponderous with yet another story of violent, narrow-minded men. Still, there’s plenty of clever commentary on human corruption and religious purity (“In this way Pampa learned the lesson every creator must learn, even God himself. Once you had created your characters, you had to be bound by their choices”). Fans of Rushdie’s magical realism and narrative trickery will find much to admire, even if this won’t be remembered as one of his better works. (Feb.)

From the Publisher

A superb, complex celebration of storytelling that inhabits a unique space somewhere between an epic poem, a history book, and an adventure novel with magical elements, political commentary, and even a healthy dose of romance.... ‘Victory City’ contains enough adventures and action to keep even the most demanding readers entertained, but it’s also the kind of novel that welcomes—no, that invites—introspection.... [It] feels like a triumphant scream against censorship as well as a celebration of language, storytelling, and otherness.... Literature can offer guides to a better future, even when it’s fiction about the past, and Victory City is precisely that.”Boston Globe

“Rushdie’s return to magic, myth, and India’s ancient stories is dazzling . . . Whether it’s an allegory for present-day India or a feminist retelling of a pre-colonial empire (or both!), Victory City nevertheless celebrates a singular story of female resilience.”Esquire

“Infused with magic, wonder, sorrow and humor, Victory City explores all of the capital-B big questions of life, like what makes us human.”—CNN

“[Rushdie] has brought forth a work of cheerful fabulism that puts far more emphasis on ‘magic’ than ‘realism’—a warm space in which we might imagine a better world than our own.”The Wall Street Journal

“Rushdie’s 15th novel is a compulsively readable take on the plain fact that human life has a tragic arc—consider how it ends for all of us—and a richly comedic texture along the was…. An elegy on a writer’s art and purpose, Victory City is a great victory for Rushdie.”Toronto Star

“A deeply fascinating, richly symbolic tale that testifies to this power of words to conjure reality.... By posing as an Indian epic teeming with Sanskrit words and mythological characters and events, the novel explicitly places itself in that Indian narrative tradition. But Victory City is also interspersed with a nameless editor’s ironic, self-referential commentary, characteristic of Rushdie’s postmodern tricks. This hybridity, an ancient eastern wonder-tale wrapped inside a modern western novel, is one way in which the book propagates its vision of cross-cultural unity, giving form to fusion.... On the evidence of this profoundly entertaining tale...Rushdie certainly still has the gift of alchemy.... All along, [he] has been transforming this dark lead of historical reality into the brilliant gold of great stories.”Financial Times

“In its haunting, uncanny, predictive power Victory City shows once again why [Salman Rushdie’s] work will always matter.”The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

Victory City is a triumph—not because it exists, but because it is utterly enchanting. . . . When you think about it, Rushdie’s novels are a miracle.”The Atlantic

Victory City feels like a return to form, recalling the kind of reality-bending, effortlessly erudite world-building that first defined [Rushdie’s] style—and may be key to his literary legacy.”Los Angeles Times

“[An] awe-inspiring saga.”Time

“A lavish fairytale [with] an infectious sense of fun.”The Guardian

“A grand historical fantasy . . . the latest masterpiece from a writer who has spent the last fifty years spinning tales that have breathed magic into history.”—Ron Charles, CBS News Sunday Morning

“‘Victory City’ is a triumph [that] invites readers to reconvene with Rushdie, the humorist, artist and spinner of grand yarns.”—NPR

Victory City is many things: a myth, an epic, a polemic parable, a real-world historical landscape flattened into a fable and embellished by fantasy. . . . Salman Rushdie deftly weaves historical fact with mythological fiction.”Vogue
“In [Rushdie’s] stories, unfettered creativity rewrites the destinies laid down by dogma and law. Victory City is a fable about the power of narrative art, hitched to a historical chronicle. . . . [The] book’s joy in fictions that ‘could be as powerful as histories’ testifies to a lifetime of free-spirited invention. . . . In this novel he shows his faith in the liberating power of art.”The Economist

“Rushdie has already proven himself of his generation’s most adept literary stars, and his forthcoming epic fantasy novel promises to be one of the best releases of the year.”The Week

“Salman Rushdie has created a radiant myth about mythmaking. Victory City is a book that privileges the ethical imagination and the unmistakable permanence of storytelling. Within these pages, you will find global travelers, rapacious kings, cave dwellers, prophets of doom, and, at its fierce and eloquent heart, a storyteller who reminds us that death may take away a lot of things, but never the power of our words. Beyond war, beyond violence, even beyond life itself, the story, and the storyteller, last.”—Colum McCann

Victory City is vast and deep, soaring and scintillating. Every page is magical, every page is gorgeous. In the way of a significant work of art, it does not resemble any other novel I could name . . . A major accomplishment by one of our greatest living writers.”—Michael Cunningham

“The scale and scope of his intellect and his imagination is googolplex, as big as infinity and then some. In Victory City, he spins an epic tale that brings us back to the key questions of what it is to be human, to be authentic, to love and to grieve.”—A. M. Homes

“No one, and I mean no one, can bring an entire world to life with the authority, wisdom, humor, and panache of Salman Rushdie. In the pantheon of his novels, Victory City stands out as book of particular imaginative achievement. It defies category, but it invites pleasure.”—Gary Shteyngart

Victory City is a capacious and sweeping telling in which writing about the past is a way of also staring dead on at the present and historicizing human nature. In the wit and poetry of his prose, Rushdie shows us not only the world we’ve made, but—more importantly—the one we can remake.”—Natasha Trethewey

“This is Salman Rushdie at his most virtuosic, a wondrous tale of medieval India which is also, as ever, a fable about the triumph of life—in all its joyous, messy excess—over the forces of fanaticism and darkness.”—Hari Kunzru

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2022-12-14
Rushdie returns to the realm of magic realism and to the India of his birth.

Vijayanagar, or Victory City, was a real place, the seat of a powerful empire that occupied most of southern India. Rushdie borrows from history to depict siblings and their families who’d stop at little to gain power; as one of his interlocutors, a European explorer, spits, “I wrote in my journal that Deva Raya and his murderous brothers only cared about getting drunk and fucking. I should have added, and killing one another.” Rushdie places this history within a web of mythology: His Vijayanagar is the creation of a goddess-channeling girl named Pampa Kampana, most of whose 247-year-long life is devoted to creating the city, populating it, and then trying, usually to little avail, to keep the place from falling into chaos. Pampa has a mission: Witnessing her mother’s purdah, she is resolved to “laugh at death and turn her face toward life.” Alas, she learns, life is complicated and, as Rushdie winks, “deity’s bounty was always a two-edged sword.” Like Pampa Kampana, Rushdie has a fine old time of worldbuilding, creating a vast space in which glittering palaces and smoky temples stand in contrast with mangroves and wildernesses ruled by “tigers as big as a house.” Throughout, Pampa moves between royals, having “achieved the unusual feat of being two successive reigns, the consort of consecutive kings, who were also brothers,” while taking time to craft a verse epic recounting her creation—an epic that, as will happen, is lost for centuries. Rushdie reflects throughout on the nature of history and storytelling, with Pampa Kampana’s creations learning who they are only through the “imaginary narrative” that is whispered to them as they sleep and with Vijayanagar’s rulers, along with their subjects, the victims of historical amnesia who “exist now only in words.

A grand entertainment, in a tale with many strands, by an ascended master of modern legends.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940175167482
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 02/07/2023
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 492,495

Read an Excerpt


On the last day of her life, when she was two hundred and forty-­seven years old, the blind poet, miracle worker, and prophetess Pampa Kampana completed her immense narrative poem about Bisnaga and buried it in a clay pot sealed with wax in the heart of the ruined Royal Enclosure, as a message to the future. Four and a half centuries later we found that pot and read for the first time the immortal masterpiece named the Jayaparajaya, meaning “Victory and Defeat,” written in the Sanskrit language, as long as the Ramayana, made up of twenty-­four thousand verses, and we learned the secrets of the empire she had concealed from history for more than one hundred and sixty thousand days. We knew only the ruins that remained, and our memory of its history was ruined as well, by the passage of time, the imperfections of memory, and the falsehoods of those who came after. As we read Pampa Kampana’s book the past was regained, the Bisnaga Empire was reborn as it truly had been, its women warriors, its mountains of gold, its generosity of spirit and its times of mean-­spiritedness, its weaknesses and its strengths. We heard for the first time the full account of the kingdom that began and ended with a burning and a severed head. This is that story, retold in plainer language by the present author, who is neither a scholar nor a poet but merely a spinner of yarns, and who offers this version for the simple entertainment and possible edification of today’s readers, the old and the young, the educated and the not so educated, those in search of wisdom and those amused by folly, northerners and southerners, followers of different gods and of no gods, the broad-­minded and the narrow-­minded, men and women and members of the genders beyond and in between, scions of the nobility and rank commoners, good people and rogues, charlatans and foreigners, humble sages, and egotistical fools.

The story of Bisnaga began in the fourteenth century of the Common Era, in the south of what we now call India, Bharat, Hindustan. The old king whose rolling head got everything going wasn’t much of a monarch, just the type of ersatz ruler who crops up between the decline of one great kingdom and the rise of another. His name was Kampila of the tiny principality of Kampili, “Kampila Raya,” raya being the regional version of raja, king. This second-­rate raya had just about enough time on his third-­rate throne to build a fourth-­rate fortress on the banks of the Pampa river, to put a fifth-­rate temple inside it, and to carve a few grandiose inscriptions into the side of a rocky hill, but then the army of the north came south to deal with him. The battle that followed was a one-sided affair, so unimportant that nobody bothered to give it a name. After the people from the north had routed Kampila Raya’s forces and killed most of his army they grabbed hold of the phony king and chopped off his crownless head. Then they filled it with straw and sent it north for the pleasure of the Delhi sultan. There was nothing particularly special about the battle without a name, or about the head. In those days battles were commonplace affairs and naming them was a thing a lot of people didn’t bother with; and severed heads were traveling across our great land all the time for the pleasure of this prince or that one. The sultan in his northern capital city had built up quite a collection.

After the insignificant battle, surprisingly, there was an event of the kind that changes history. The story goes that the women of the tiny, defeated kingdom, most of them recently widowed as a result of the no-­name battle, left the fourth-­rate fortress, after making final offerings at the fifth­rate temple, crossed the river in small boats, improbably defying the turbulence of the water, walked some distance to the west along the southern bank, and then lit a great bonfire and committed mass suicide in the flames. Gravely, without making any complaint, they said farewell to one another and walked forward without flinching. Nor were there any screams when their flesh caught fire and the stink of death filled the air. They burned in silence; only the crackling of the fire itself could be heard. Pampa Kampana saw it all happen. It was as if the universe itself was sending her a message, saying, open your ears, breathe in, and learn. She was nine years old and stood watching with tears in her eyes, holding her dry-­eyed mother’s hand as tightly as she could, while all the women she knew entered the fire and sat or stood or lay in the heart of the furnace spouting flames from their ears and mouths: the old woman who had seen everything and the young woman just starting out in life and the girl who hated her father the dead soldier and the wife who was ashamed of her husband because he hadn’t given up his life on the battlefield and the woman with the beautiful singing voice and the woman with the frightening laugh and the woman as skinny as a stick and the woman as fat as a melon. Into the fire they marched and the stench of their death made Pampa feel like retching and then to her horror her own mother Radha Kampana gently detached her hand and very slowly but with absolute conviction walked forward to join the bonfire of the dead, without even saying goodbye.

For the rest of her life Pampa Kampana, who shared a name with the river on whose banks all this happened, would carry the scent of her mother’s burning flesh in her nostrils. The pyre was made of perfumed sandalwood, and an abundance of cloves and garlic and cumin seeds and sticks of cinnamon had been added to it as if the burning ladies were being prepared as a well-­spiced dish to set before the sultan’s victorious generals for their gastronomic delight, but those fragrances—the turmeric, the big cardamoms, and the little cardamoms too—failed to mask the unique, cannibal pungency of women being cooked alive, and made their odor, if anything, even harder to bear. Pampa Kampana never ate meat again, and could not bring herself to remain in any kitchen in which it was being prepared. All such dishes exuded the memory of her mother and when other people ate dead animals Pampa Kampana had to avert her gaze.

Pampa’s own father had died young, long before the nameless battle, so her mother was not one of the newly widowed. Arjuna Kampana had died so long ago that Pampa had no memory of his face. All she knew about him was what Radha Kampana had told her, that he had been a kind man, the well-­loved potter of the town of Kampili, and that he had encouraged his wife to learn the potter’s art as well, so after he died she took over his trade and proved to be more than his equal. Radha, in turn, had guided little Pampa’s hands at the potter’s wheel and the child was already a skilled thrower of pots and bowls and had learned an important lesson, which was that there was no such thing as men’s work. Pampa Kampana had believed that this would be her life, making beautiful things with her mother, side by side at the wheel. But that dream was over now. Her mother had let go of her hand and abandoned her to her fate.

For a long moment Pampa tried to convince herself that her mother was just being sociable and going along with the crowd, because she had always been a woman for whom the friendship of women was of paramount importance. She told herself that the undulating wall of fire was a curtain behind which the ladies had gathered to gossip, and soon they would all walk out of the flames, unharmed, maybe a little scorched, smelling a little of kitchen perfumes, perhaps, but that would pass soon enough. And then Pampa and her mother would go home.

Only when she saw the last slabs of roasted flesh fall away from Radha Kampana’s bones to reveal the naked skull did she understand that her childhood was over and from now on she must conduct herself as an adult and never commit her mother’s last mistake. She would laugh at death and turn her face toward life. She would not sacrifice her body merely to follow dead men into the afterworld. She would refuse to die young and live, instead, to be impossibly, defiantly old. It was at this point that she received the celestial blessing that would change everything, because this was the moment when the goddess Pampa’s voice, as old as Time, started coming out of her nine-year-­old mouth.

It was an enormous voice, like the thunder of a high waterfall booming in a valley of sweet echoes. It possessed a music she had never heard before, a melody to which she later gave the name of kindness. She was terrified, of course, but also reassured. This was not a possession by a demon. There was goodness in the voice, and majesty. Radha Kampana had once told her that two of the highest deities of the pantheon had spent the earliest days of their courtship near here, by the angry waters of the rushing river. Perhaps this was the queen of the gods herself, returning in a time of death to the place where her own love had been born. Like the river, Pampa Kampana had been named after the deity—“Pampa” was one of the goddess Parvati’s local names, and her lover Shiva, the mighty Lord of the Dance himself, had appeared to her here in his local, three-­eyed incarnation—so it all began to make sense. With a feeling of serene detachment Pampa, the human being, began to listen to the words of Pampa, the goddess, coming out of her mouth. She had no more control over them than a member of the audience has over the monologue of the star, and her career as a prophet and miracle worker began.