The Miraculous Salman Rushdie

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From The Atlantic:

Salman rushdie’s new novel, Victory City, purports to be the summary of a long-lost, 24,000-verse epic poem from 14th-century India. The hero and author of the poem is Pampa Kampana, who as a girl becomes the conduit for a goddess, channeling her oracular pronouncements and wielding her magical powers. She later causes a city to rise overnight from enchanted seeds, presides as its queen, and lives to the age of 247. The city she founds becomes a utopia—a feminist one, I’m tempted to say, because in its heyday women are equal to men. But really, when women flourish, everyone flourishes: male and female, native and foreigner, Muslim and Buddhist and Jain, gay and straight and bisexual. This liberal Xanadu goes on to become a great kingdom and turns distinctly illiberal. Pampa is forced to flee and hide.

The novel is titled Victory City not so much because that’s the city’s name—though briefly called that (Vijayanagar), it was soon rechristened Bisnaga—or because Pampa emerges victorious. She does not. The title comes from the last passage of her poem, written at the end of her centuries-long life. Casting her mind back over the rise and fall of her empire, she asks how its kings and queens will be remembered. Only through words, she answers—her words:

While they lived, they were victors, or vanquished, or both.
Now they are neither.
Words are the only victors.

Just by dint of ending up in our hands, Victory City vindicates Pampa’s bittersweet faith in literature. In a sense, that’s true of everything Rushdie has published since 1989, when he went into hiding after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, issued a fatwa, a religious ruling, in this case condemning Rushdie to death. His books could so easily not have been written. But Victory City is especially precious. For one thing, it comes out a mere six months after a self-avowed admirer of Khomeini finally got to Rushdie, assaulting him on a stage and stabbing him repeatedly in the neck and torso. Rushdie lost the use of an eye and a hand. He may have still been working on this novel; he may have finished it already. Readers will easily spot general parallels between our hero and her creator—both are prolific world-builders; both must elude political assassination—but a few of them seem to reproduce with eerie specificity the events of the summer. We don’t know whether he added those afterward or life imitated fiction, as it sometimes does. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that Victory City is a triumph—not because it exists, but because it is utterly enchanting. Words are the only victors.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Mr. Rushdie’s latest book is published by Random House and the release date is five days after the date PG posted this item, so, of course, Random House has disabled the Look Inside feature for Amazon ebooks because, as everyone at Random House knows, no prospective purchaser of a book ever opens it up to check out the first few pages.

Randy Penguin will allow you to preorder the ebook on Zon, but doesn’t give you the ability to get an idea of whether you would like it or not.