Victory City by Salman Rushdie - review by Ian Critchley

Ian Critchley

From Cowherd to Queen

Victory City

By

Jonathan Cape 352pp £20
 

The horrific assault on Salman Rushdie in August last year, when the 75-year-old author was attacked on stage during an event in New York, has reportedly left him blind in one eye and without the use of one of his hands. Little other news about his health has been released, though recently Hanif Kureishi, himself recuperating after a terrible fall in Rome, has said that Rushdie writes to him every day, which provides grounds for optimism.

Completed before the attack, Rushdie’s new book, Victory City, is a sprawling, exuberant but uneven novel, charting the rise and fall of the Bisnaga Empire in southern India over a period of 250 years, beginning in the 14th century. There was a historical Bisnaga kingdom and Rushdie draws on some elements of fact, but he gives it the full magical-realist treatment. The founders of his empire are two cowherds instructed by an eighteen-year-old woman to plant a bag of seeds, from which a capital city and its inhabitants grow: ‘hundreds – no thousands – of men and women were born full-grown from the brown earth.’ A visiting Portuguese explorer describes the city as ‘a marvel to be compared to the Egyptian Pyramids, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or the Colossus of Rhodes’. It soon becomes a world city.

The young woman who instructs the cowherds to plant their seeds is Pampa Kampana, ‘miracle worker and prophetess’, who lives to the age of 247 and witnesses the empire’s birth and its eventual demise. She writes everything down in an epic poem, though the novel is purportedly a retelling

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