56 pages 1 hour read

Salman Rushdie

Victory City

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2023

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Summary and Study Guide


Victory City is a 2023 novel by renowned author, Salman Rushdie. Published in the aftermath of an August 2022 knife attack against Rushdie, Victory City is presented as a translation of a fictional Sanskrit epic text. The narrator imagines a feminist utopia that emerged hundreds of years ago in the Indian subcontinent, inspired by the Empire of Vijayanagara.

This study guide uses the 2023 Penguin Random House edition.

Content Warning: The source text contains mentions of sexual abuse and misogyny.

Plot Summary

Victory City is presented as a summary of a long narrative poem titled the Jayaparajaya, in which a poet and prophet named Pampa Kampana tells the story of the rise and fall of the Bisnaga Empire in southern India. Pampa begins the poem with the story of her tragic childhood. When she is nine years old, her town loses a battle. The women of the town throw themselves on the massive funeral pyre that is built after the battle. Pampa watches her mother throw herself on the flames. Shortly after, while wandering alone, a goddess named Pampa Kampana enters the little girl’s body and gives the girl her power and her name. She will live to a very old age, the girl is told, and she will have magical powers. Pampa finds refuge with a religious hermit named Vidyasagar, who offers her shelter but sexually abuses her each night. One day, two brothers visit the cave. Hukka and Bukka Sangama are former cowherds who are seeking religious advice. Now aged 18, Pampa tells them to sow their seeds and a great city will be born.

The brothers do as commanded. The city of Bisnaga is born from the seeds, including a population that comes into existence overnight. Pampa hopes that the city will be more equal, especially with regard to the treatment of women. Each night, she magically whispers to each of the citizens, telling them the story of their past to help guide their future. Hukka and Bukka become the first kings of Bisnaga, which is named when a Portuguese trader named Domingo Nunes visits. Though Pampa agrees to marry Hukka (and, later, Bukka), she also loves Domingo. Through Domingo, she gives birth to three daughters. Though they are officially royal, their features betray the fact that Domingo is their true father. Hukka dies and is replaced by Bukka, who also marries Pampa. With Bukka, Pampa gives birth to three sons. In contrast to her daughters, her sons are brash, rude, and entitled. Pampa wishes her daughters to be eligible to inherit the throne. She wants men and women to be equal. After some conflict and consternation, the sons are sent into exile. Many years later, however, Bukka dies. His sons (and the disreputable brothers of Hukka and Bukka) return to try to take control of Bisnaga. As a result, Pampa and her three daughters must escape. They run away to an enchanted forest with Grandmaster Li Ye-He (a martial arts instructor) and an older man named Haleya Kote. Pampa and her three daughters—Yotshna, Zerelda, and Yuktasri—live in the enchanted forest for many years. Eventually, Zerelda falls in love with Li Ye-He and they leave to travel the world together. Yuktasri is seduced by the wild women of the forest and goes to join them. Yotshna falls in love with Haleya. When Haleya helps Pampa to investigate events in Bisnaga, however, he succumbs to his old age. Yotshna never forgives Pampa for the death of her lover. Meanwhile, Pampa uses magic to defeat an invading army of pink monkeys; the effort forces her into a deep sleep.

After a long time, Pampa is awoken when Zerelda Li finds her and kisses her. Zerelda Li is the descendent of Pampa’s daughter, who is now long dead. Zerelda and Pampa return to Bisnaga, where their magic and combat skills make them important to the current king, Krishna. Zerelda falls in love with Krishna, but Krishna is advised to make a political alliance with a distant kingdom and to make a woman named Tirumala his most esteemed wife. Tirumala and Zerelda become enemies. When they both become pregnant, their potential children are already seen as rivals to the throne. Zerelda dies in childbirth, however, and Tirumala gains influence while away with Krishna on a series of military campaigns. During this time, Pampa is made Queen Regent and rules Bisnaga in Krishna’s absence. Her progressive policies turn the empire into a hub of culture and art, making it renowned throughout the world. Tirumala’s daughter Tirumalamba grows distant from her mother, who falsely accuses Pampa and others of killing her beloved son. Krishna, in a fit of rage, agrees with this accusation and sentences Pampa to be blinded. Tirumalamba helps the blind Pampa to write the Jayaparajaya as Krishna’s rule begins to decay.

Krishna’s popularity collapses and he dies in ignominy. His estranged and seedy brother Achyuta takes the throne and finds himself in a power struggle with Tirumalamba’s older husband, the devious and scheming Aliya. Between Achyuta and Aliya, the last remaining vestiges of Bisnaga’s glory ebb away. The enemies encircle the empire and threaten to destroy it. Eventually, Bisnaga’s armies are defeated and the city is burned to the ground. Pampa helps Tirumalamba to escape, buries her poem, and then allows herself to crumble into dust at last.