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Reviews of Victory City by Salman Rushdie

Victory City

A Novel

by Salman Rushdie

Victory City by Salman Rushdie X
Victory City by Salman Rushdie
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2023, 352 pages

    Jan 2024, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Chloe Pfeiffer
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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.


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 ...

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Rushdie's account of the history of Bisnaga is truly interesting and entertaining. Sometimes his strokes are too broad and his movement too plodding, but for the most part there are interesting characters, engaging dialogue and enough detail to flesh out the world without being overwhelming. And the novel works as a subtle satire of contemporary politics—especially in its observations about dictatorial leaders, and about religion as a tool of social control and oppression—but isn't overpowered by that reading. Despite Pampa's mission of equality, her writing and her actions aren't exactly feminist. This hypocrisy is, I imagine, an intentional part of Pampa's character. Her political imagination is limited—she's blessed with enough power and wisdom to play politics well in a patriarchal monarchy, but not enough to transform society into a feminist utopia, or even, it seems, to imagine what that might look like. Victory City reads often like a cynical satire of the liberal project. But some of Rushdie's other choices seem to transcend this winking hypocrisy and become gleefully misogynistic...continued

Full Review (1258 words)

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(Reviewed by Chloe Pfeiffer).

Media Reviews

Boston Globe
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… Literature can offer guides to a better future, even when it's fiction about the past, and Victory City is precisely that.

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.

The Washington Post
Despite its grand design, Victory City remains surprisingly modest in tone. The bombastic quality that sometimes burdened Rushdie's recent novels is here tamed, replaced by a gentler humor, a subtler satire. The story's vast time frame and the prophesied disaster at the end cast a pall of melancholy over the waves of political machinations that keep buffeting the empire ... 'The miraculous and the everyday are two halves of a single whole,' [Pampa] says. And that, incidentally, may be the best description of Rushdie's work.

The Week (one of the must-read books in early 2023)
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 New York Times
[I]n its haunting, uncanny, predictive power Victory City shows once again why [Rushdie's] work will always matter.

What Rushdie re-creates convincingly is the way that the divine is a necessary component in the creation myths of great cities and societies. It's as if Rushdie has dropped a molecule of divinity into a petri dish containing the other basic stuff of life, and watched a civilization cultivate.

The Guardian (fiction to look out for in 2023)
It's splendid that Salman Rushdie has a new novel out... . Better still, it's a cracker. Purportedly a rediscovered ancient epic, it's about the transformative power of human creativity, the enduring ability of art to shape the world.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A grand entertainment, in a tale with many strands, by an ascended master of modern legends.

Publishers Weekly
[A] rich if undercooked story ... 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.

Author Blurb A. M. Homes
Salman Rushdie is a genius and I wish he could read me a story—or a chapter of his book—every night before bed. 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.

Author Blurb Colum McCann
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. "

Author Blurb Gary Shteyngart
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.

Author Blurb Michael Cunningham
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.

Reader Reviews

Debra C

Classic Rushdie
This book was a delight, and written in classic Rushdie form. It’s more accessible, to me, than many of his other works, although the depth of his knowledge of Indian history is well evident. It’s magical, yet its themes are quite real. The ...   Read More
Cathryn Conroy

A Fantasy of Epic Proportions—A Fable, Fairy Tale, Allegory, and Parable—with a Formidable Warning
This book is fantasy—a completely made-up world where the main character possesses extraordinary magical abilities and lives to be 247 years old. And while fantasy is my least favorite genre, I am enamored of Salman Rushdie. After all, any author who...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Ramayana and Vijayanagara

Elaborate color illustration of Lord Rama with bow and arrow, showing Rama as a blue figure in patterned clothing The Ramayana, which translates from Sanskrit as "Rama's Journey," is one of the two great epic poems of India and a foundational text of Hinduism; the other is the Mahabharata, which is longer and means "Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty." The Ramayana was composed by the poet Valmiki, probably around the 5th century BCE, though sources vary on this. The poem is split into seven parts; the first and last parts are believed to be later additions. Some of the Ramayana is thought to have taken place at or near the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire—the setting of Salman Rushdie's novel Victory City—and the empire's art and architecture were strongly inspired by the poem.

The Ramayana tells the story of Rama, the son of a ...

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