Book Review – Victory City

Victory City (paid link) by Salman Rushdie is one of the controversial author’s most recent novels. I had never read any of his works, but one of my book clubs chose this one and so I picked it up a few months ago.

I read the e-book edition.

Here is the blurb:

She will whisper an empire into existence – but all stories have a way of getting away from their creators . . .

In the wake of an insignificant 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 tells her that she will be instrumental in the rise of a great city called Bisnaga – literally ‘victory city’ – the wonder of the world.

Over the next two hundred and fifty years, Pampa Kampana’s life becomes deeply interwoven with Bisnaga’s as she 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 as years pass, rulers come and go, battles are won and lost, and allegiances shift, Bisnaga is no exception.

The first thing that struck me about this novel was that it was a fantastical exploration of ancient history. Salman Rushdie had never been on my radar as an author who wrote fantasy, but after investigating his other works, it looks like much of his catalog is regarded as part of the magical realism genre. While that term originated in the German art world, it has been mostly used to describe writing by Latin American authors in which magical events are described in a realistic manner and the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred.

After reading Victory City, I don’t think that I would categorize this book as magical realism because the events of myth and magic are overt and clearly magical. This book read more like a mythical exploration of history, similar to some of the retellings of Greek mythology that have become prevalent recently (Circe, Ariadne, A Thousand Ships [paid links]).

I struggled to get into this book, and I think that was because the narrative style was comprised of too much telling and not enough showing for me. It was also hard to identify with the narrator. While some of the individual stories and conflicts had interesting aspects, I never felt engaged with the outcome of Pampa Kampana and her city. It also seemed that the author tried to create a story that gave women agency and power, but didn’t quite get there in the execution of that idea.

This book might appeal more to other readers and I think some of my reaction to it is that the style didn’t work for me. The prose itself was well-done, and I would consider reading another book by the author at some point.

Have you read anything by Salman Rushdie? What did you think? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

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