LONDON (AFP): Six months after being stabbed, British author Salman Rushdie on Tuesday publishes his new novel “Victory City”, an “epic tale” of a 14th-century woman who defies a patriarchal world to rule a city.
Written before the US knife attack that nearly took the Indian-born author’s life, the novel purports to be a translation of a historical epic originally written in Sanskrit.
The much-anticipated work tells the tale of young orphan girl Pampa Kampana who is endowed by a goddess with magical powers and founds the city, in modern-day India, of Bisnaga, which translates as Victory City.
Rushdie, 75, will not promote his 15th novel due to his physical condition, although his agent Andrew Wylie told The Guardian that his “recovery is progressing”.
He was attacked as he was about to speak at a conference in Chautauqua in upstate New York, near Lake Erie, on August 12.
The author had lived in hiding for years after Iran’s first supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered his killing for what he deemed the blasphemous nature of “The Satanic Verses”.
The stabbing suspect, Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey with roots in Lebanon, was arrested immediately after the attack and subsequently pleaded not guilty to the charges.
– Words ‘the only victors’ –
Rushdie, a naturalised American who has lived in New York for 20 years, lost the sight in one eye and the use of one hand, Wylie said in October.
The attack shocked the West but was welcomed by extremists in Muslim countries such as Iran and Pakistan.
While not personally promoting the book, Rushdie has begun to communicate via social network Twitter, most often to share press reviews of his new novel.
Several events are also planned to accompany its release, including a conference with writers Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman that will be broadcast online.
An icon of free speech since he was subjected to the fatwa that forced him into hiding, Rushdie is still an outspoken defender of the power of words.
His new work follows a heroine on a mission to “give women equal agency in a patriarchal world”, according to publisher Penguin Random House’s summary.
The book tells the tale of Pampa Kampana’s creation of a city and of its downfall.
“Over the next 250 years, Pampa Kampana’s life becomes deeply interwoven with Bisnaga’s, from its literal sowing from a bag of magic seeds to its tragic ruination in the most human of ways: the hubris of those in power,” it added.
The novel concludes with the statement: “Words are the only victors”.
– A ‘triumph’ –
US author Colum McCann wrote in The New York Times that his friend Rushdie was saying “something quite profound” in Victory City.
“He’s saying, ‘You will never take the fundamental act of storytelling away from people.’
“In the face of danger, even in the face of death, he manages to say that storytelling is one currency we all have.”
The Atlantic magazine called it a “triumph — not because it exists, but because it is utterly enchanting.
“When you think about it, Rushdie’s novels are a miracle,” it added.
Born in Mumbai in 1947, Rushdie published his first novel “Grimus” in 1975, and gained worldwide fame six years later with “Midnight’s Children” which won him the Booker Prize in the UK.
“Victory City” will be released in the US on Tuesday and the UK on Thursday.