"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Friday, July 21, 2023


Victory City
is Salman Rushdie's sixteenth novel but the first of his I've read. Though I wanted to read something by Rushdie for a long time, I could never quite spur myself to action when it came to checking out one his many famous offerings and just dive in. Until now. Why not read his most recent? I confess that I was not quite prepared for his particular brand of history, fantasy, and magical realism. In fact at one point I turned to my husband, who was listening to the audiobook with me, and asked him what is going on.

"Well," he said, "as far as I can tell it is a creation story. And," he added, "a story about how religions come to exist, and..." Pretty soon both of us were finding different aspects of the story that made it both familiar and relatable. It was a feminist story, and one about the perils of colonialization, there was Mother Nature, and animals who could talk, and racism and caste systems show-up, at one point I even recognized the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. The development of the Kama Sutra was explained and the polarizing effect religions can have is a running theme. It is the story about the value of education, and about the frivolous and petty lives lived by many royals. And, in the end, it is about history: who records it and how are people remembered. The words that are written down are all that remain.

Stone Chariot Monument, Hampi, India
Actually Victory City the novel is based on an actual city, Vijayanagar (which translates to Victory City), which dominated a Hindu region of what is now Southern India. It was destroyed in 1565 by a military defeat, though its remains are now called Hampi and are a UNESCO site. Another event happened during that time period: a mass suicide event where women threw themselves onto a huge fire and all burned to death in the 14th Century. (Mass suicide or Jauhar of Rajput women happened at the fort of Chittaur in Rajasthan, India in 1303. Wikipedia).

That event -- the mass suicide -- opens the book when a young nine-year-old girl witnesses her mother walking into the flames to her death. The girl survives and is inhabited by a goddess who not only prophesizes but also imbues the girl with special powers. Among her powers she is given the gift of creation. When she gives seeds to two cowherds, Hukka and Bukka, to plant, the seeds grow into the city of Vijayanagar. Then the girl whispers into the ears of her creation all the stories and memories that they need to start a great civilization. The girl, now a woman, is renamed as Pampa Kampana and recognized as their creator. She is tasked with overseeing her creation long past a normal lifetime. She lives for over 250 years until the city falls. For a time she is even exiled from her city. Near the end of her life she spends her time writing down her account of history in the form of an epic poem and hides it in a huge clay pot which she buries for safe keeping.
The world Pampa calls into being is one of peace, where men and women are equal and all faiths welcome, but the story Rushdie tells is about a state that forever fails to live up to its ideals. Hukka and Bukka say they want peace but make war on others to preserve it, and they can never quite conquer their land’s intolerance: a fundamentalist insistence on having the one right belief that works to undermine the pluralism of the city’s founding principles. (NYT)
I understand this is fundamental Rushdie. Start with an ideal and see where it goes naturally. Insist room exists for all in the world, even when history keeps telling us there isn't. 

Oddly, the ending of the book was very prescient. Near the end of the book Pampa Kampana has a falling out with yet another king and he orders her to be brutally blinded. We know that Salman Rushdie was attacked while at a literary event last summer by a knife-wielding foe and ended up losing sight in one of his eyes. Was he, like his heroine, able to gaze into the future or was it just a big coincidence? 

My husband and I listened to the audiobook together, expertly narrated by Sid Sagar. He did a great job, but boy, it would have been nice to see a print version as we listened. The spelling of so many names eluded us. Here is a sample of the audio version.

I've already spent a few minutes determining which of Rushdie's novels I should read next. Midnight's Children, his 1981 Booker Prize winner would probably be a great place to start. But I am very intrigued by The Ground Beneath Her Feet which someone described as the first great rock-n-roll novel ever written in English. We'll see where the reading muses lead me but let's hope it doesn't take me another 40 years to find my way back to Rushdie.


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