Book Review: The Palace Of Illusions

Book: The Palace of Illusions

Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Publisher: Picador

Summary: 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.

My review: Okay, but this is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life. I’m not kidding. It was beautiful beyond words, as intricate, grand and perfect as bridal gold jewellery.

Pros: I loved each and every part of this book. It was one of those rare novels that just transports you into the ancient lands, where you can actually feel every sound, colour, sights and smell like you have visited that place. The blend of emotions and advice were perfectly balanced and well thought out.
Telling the story from Draupadi’s perspective was another big pro. We do see many strong female characters in the epic but they aren’t usually given a voice. The original story gives more importance to the male characters and the political situations during that time. But this novel gives it a more humane twist through the the eyes of Draupadi (also known as Panchaali), one of the most complex character in the Mahabharata.
Chitra’s words weave magic, making the characters come alive, making us feel every emotion they feel, thus making ud fall in love with them.

Cons: Some events like Draupadi’s time in the actual Palace of Illusions and her early relationship with her children were not mentioned in much detail so as to encompass the entire epic concisely in three hundred and sixty pages. The story deviates a bit from the actual Sanskrit epic but it still preserves the core values.

Conclusion: The Mahabharata is a complex epic and retelling it is a ginormous task that is not for the faint hearted. But Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni does complete justice to the timeless tale, making this book, in my opinion, one of the best retellings of the Mahabharata out there.

Star rating: 5/5

Age recommendation: 13 and above.


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