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Victory City by Salman Rushdie is an abridged translation of the epic poem Jayaparajaya, providing a glimpse into the history of the Vijayanagara empire in south India. The novel is told through the perspective of a mortal narrator, possibly Salman Rushdie himself, disguised as a goddess and acting as a scribe. The epic portrays the Vijayanagara empire as a seedbed for the modern world, with its art, new ideas, and economic power, as well as a place of turmoil with factions, wars, and palace coups. Though the novel is involving and enjoyable, it falls short of the divine nature of the original deity's prose.
According to Victory City, one such scholar was the demigod Pampa Kampana, the empire's mother, midwife and general overseer, who documented the era in a narrative poem she then sealed in a pot and buried in the ground. Victory City, we are assured, is the abridged translation of Pampa's epic Jayaparajaya (a compound word meaning victory and defeat), retold in simpler language and stripped back from its original 24,000 verses. And if the result, while involving and enjoyable, rarely troubles the realms of the divine, that's probably what happens when a mortal rewrites a deity's prose.
The novel encapsulates the dichotomy of the Vijayanagara empire, presenting it as a place of both progress and turmoil. It highlights the empire's globalized nature, trading with China and Venice and serving as a haven for art and new ideas. However, it also delves into the political strife, rival factions, and foreign wars that plagued the empire. Victory City is an engaging retelling of the Vijayanagara empire's history, providing readers with glimpses of both its triumphs and its challenges.
Viewed from one angle, it was a seedbed for the globalised modern world, in that it became a haven for art and new ideas and an economic power-house that traded with China and Venice. Viewed from another, it was a thicket of intrigue, rocked by rival factions, foreign wars and palace coups. Only the most brilliant or foolhardy scholar would dream of tackling its history in a single volume.