Book Review: The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Title: The Palace of Illusions
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Paperback: 360 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (May 12th 2008)
Genre: Mythology (Indian)
A reimagining of the world-famous Indian epic, the Mahabharat—told from the point of view of an amazing woman.
Relevant to today’s war-torn world, The Palace of Illusions takes us back to a time that is half history, half myth, and wholly magical. Narrated by Panchaali, the wife of the legendary Pandavas brothers in the Mahabharat, the novel gives us a new interpretation of this ancient tale.
The novel traces the princess Panchaali’s life, beginning with her birth in fire and following her spirited balancing act as a woman with five husbands who have been cheated out of their father’s kingdom. Panchaali is swept into their quest to reclaim their birthright, remaining at their side through years of exile and a terrible civil war involving all the important kings of India. Meanwhile, we never lose sight of her strategic duels with her mother-in-law, her complicated friendship with the enigmatic Krishna, or her secret attraction to the mysterious man who is her husbands’ most dangerous enemy. Panchaali is a fiery female redefining for us a world of warriors, gods, and the ever-manipulating hands of fate.
I heard of ‘The Palace of Illusions’ first from my husband Che during a discussion about perpectives and how what we think of history may not be the only way it happened.
I have read the Amar Chitra Katha version of the Mahabharata and even watched the TV serials avidly but all of these were from Vayasa’s viewpoint. Somehow that was the Mahabharata for me, I’d never thought that Draupadi or a woman’s point of view to the whole battle maybe different. Thats why I read this book.
And it didn’t let me down. It is a journey worth taking to see the battle with a different pair of eyes. ‘The Palace of Illusions’ is the same old Mahabharata but as seen by Draupadi. Chitra does a good job of letting us peek into the heart and mind of a woman. Her turmoil at trying to be more that just a woman in the harem of kings and her quest to learn more, be more. How she struggles to accept her fate that was sealed the day she stepped out of the fire. Her love for one unattainable man and her duty to another five.
Chitra makes Draupadi just like any other woman with her issues and reconciliation with her mother-in-law. Her sense of pride and honour and the lengths she would go to to revenge them. A woman we can relate to and yet she stands apart with the role she plays in the story.
This book is a must read if you’re into Hindu Mythology and Lore, and even if you’re not, this is a must read for the different perpective to history and lore.