Title : The Palace of Illusions
Author : Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Genre : Adult, Mythical Retelling
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 had never known the entire story of Mahabharatha. I had heard bits and pieces, and since it’s a story containing various stories, and I just knew the very basic parts of the entire saga. I knew about the few main characters, and what the major conflicts were, and there I thought I knew enough about this epic!
This book blew me away. Maybe it’s because I’m reading the entire story of Mahabharatha for the first time, but whatever be the reason, I absolutely loved this. It’s an absolutely fantastic retelling of the greatest war in the history of India and this book was glorious.
[Note : For those of you who don’t know, Mahabharatha is one of the two major epics of ancient India, about the great battle of Kurukshetra.]
1. The writing : The writing was gorgeous. It was so simple and elegant, and beautiful without trying to be pretentious or metaphorical. Initially, I felt that it was a bit too loaded with foreshadowing, but then the author tweaked the foreshadowing aspect to shine bright and it become one of the exemplary things of the book. The writing was lyrical, and it literally flowed.
2. The characters : The characters are so very unique and real. Maybe this is because I’m reading the story for the first time, and I never heard or read about them in such detail before, but the characters were extremely human and realistic, and the way the author brought that out in them was superb. None of the characters are plain good or bad, they all have good and evil in them, and the author has done a great job to bring out both the parts in each of the characters. They were written with such a humanistic touch, and you immediately attach yourself to the characters, and develop feelings for all of them.
3. The ambiguity of the heroes and the villains : This epic is brimming with a multitude of characters, and each character has its own set of values and negatives. Every character makes you think, think about his role in the story, and just when you have formed an opinion about a particular person, some new facet is revealed and we are compelled to rethink about the issue. The ambiguity of the characters, how none of them are black and white, and all of them are grey – is a wonder to read.
4. The women-dominant voice throughout the book : Mahabharatha isn’t essenitally a talke about women. Also, the women during that time (i.e., the non-royals) did not have that much of power. So, in writing the book from Panchaali’s POV (even though she’s a princess and queen), I loved the voice of a woman which prevailed over the book. The inner struggles, the forbidden love, the various comflicting feelings are given a special touch and the author has done a beautiful job in detailing them from such a strong POV.
5. Imagery : Lastly, I need to talk about the beautiful, fitting imagery the author has provided in her beautiful lines.
6. The story : [THIS IS A MOOT POINT]. (since this isn’t an original story by the author). I’m just mentioning this in general, try not to relate it to this book in parituclar. The story of Mahabharatha made me speechless. It was so exhilerating, and it made it difficult to stop reading the book. It’s so many things at once and in general, such a sad, sad story. It explores various themes and facets of life, and every different situation seems to resonate within us and creates an impact. And mainly, it makes you think and ponder over how you have been living life, and how the smallest of things can have the biggest of impacts later on in life.
I honestly can’t find any.
Everyone who loves an epic story about family and drama. Or, everyone who is interested in Indian mythology.
A ‘good book’ or a ‘good read’?
An excellent book. An engrossing read.