Salman Rushdie’s novel ‘Victory City’ is a triumph, regardless of the attack: NPR

Weeks before Salman Rushdie was attacked on stage at the Chautauqua Festival on August 12, 2022, he completed and submitted final edits to his novel, City of Victory. Inspired by the true story of Vijayanagar, a once-thriving medieval Hindu kingdom in southern India, Rushdie set out to reimagine its collapse as a feminist fable about lust for power and the power of stories.

city ​​of victory has already been hailed as a masterpiece by critics in the United States, Great Britain and India. Given what Rushdie endured last August, there’s also an air of commemoration for the writer’s 15th novel with a virtual launch that will be hosted by Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman.

Rushdie made his first public remarks this week in a lengthy interview with the new yorker the magazine’s David Remnick, calling the attempt on his life a “colossal attack” that left him with lifelong nightmares and physical injuries. As Rushdie tells Remnick in the article titled “The Defiance of Salman Rushdie”, he has lost sight in his right eye and has nerve damage in one of his hands that still makes it difficult to grasp.

His attacker was a 24-year-old named Hadi Matar who stabbed the writer more than a dozen times in front of a live audience. Matar was arrested on the spot and his trial is expected to start later this year.

It had been more than 30 years since the Iranian regime sentenced Rushdie to death for blaspheming Islam in his novel Satanic verses. The attack was a tragic rebirth of an episode that had seemed resigned to the past. In recent years, Rushdie had lived a relatively open life as a literary figure in the United States and although he would no longer make public appearances to promote City of Victory, he says he is grateful that the emphasis is on his words.

After the attack, several of her novels returned to bestseller lists, and many prominent writers around the world held public readings of her work in solidarity, including Booker Prize-winning novelist Kiran Desai.

“He was a writer who created a stage for all of us who believe in a secular worldview and he opened the door for so many writers,” Desai said. “Freedom of speech is a critical issue in many parts of the world and now he has suffered physical harm for defending that view.”

city ​​of victory invites readers to find Rushdie, the humorist, artist and spinner of great yarns. It tells the story of a witch and poet named Pampa Kampana, who dreams an entire civilization into existence from magical seeds. Thanks to divine intervention, Pampa has lived on for more than two centuries, witnessing the city’s many victories and defeats. She writes everything down and seals history in a clay pot for future generations.

Kiran Desai says the new novel feels like a love letter to Rushdie’s devoted tribe of readers and writers: “It’s a distillation of wisdom. A conviction that beautiful words and stories will live on in our memories and whisper through the dream of future generations.”

Victory City: A Novel by Salman Rushdie
Victory City: A Novel by Salman Rushdie

In an essay that opened his latest collection of non-fiction writing, Truth languagesRushdie explained that his literary adaptations of mythological tales are a way to address pressing contemporary issues while keeping the pure enjoyment of reading and storytelling front and center.

Amid dazzling battles, court intrigues and sensual romances, city ​​of victory is the story of Rushdie of Vijayanagar, a medieval Hindu empire that fell to Muslim armies. Today, the site has become a symbol of Hindu and Muslim enmity and is part of a revisionist rewrite of India’s past by the ruling Hindu nationalist government.

“History is much more complicated than the way it is presented. [in India] today,” says Kiran Desai. “The nationalist’s vision of history is different from the novelist’s vision of history”.

Rushdie is an outspoken secularist who has always celebrated India’s multiplicity. He is also a trained historian. In his account of Vijayanagar through the words of the goddess Pampa, the city is destroyed by the lust for power of men of all faiths.

Writer and journalist Aatish Taseer, who has written extensively on the rise of Hindu nationalism, argues that Rushdie’s historical novels are not recreations for mere literary entertainment. Whether it is Muslim Spain in The Moor’s Last Breath or Vijayanagar in city ​​of victory“…he finds places where there are historical controversies, historical fractures, and moments in…a country’s past that won’t go away and continue to send echoes into the present.”

After Taseer penned a scathing cover for TIME magazine on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian government retaliated by stripping him of his Overseas Indian Citizenship card. He says Rushdie was the first person he turned to for help. “I see him as a touchstone. Whenever freedom of expression is threatened, Salman Rushdie is there to defend it.”

Taseer says life bleeds into fiction for many writers, but with Rushdie “there’s this diptych of Salman Rushdie’s life and a body of work so informed by his life.” Rushdie’s close friend, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Deepa Mehta, says it’s certainly possible to read the latest novel through the lens of the attack, but that would be doing Rushdie’s magic a disservice.

“Of course, I kept thinking it was weird and it’s ironic, but I never felt like he gained any kind of dark power from the attack,” he said. Mehta said. “The novel was as powerful as it ever was because it was brilliant.”

In one of the most poignant scenes of city ​​of victory, poet and narrator Pampa Kampana is blindsided by an angry rival. As the world she imagined crumbles around her, she continues the task of writing her story: “All that remains is this city of words. Words are the only victors.


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