Book Review: The Palace of Illusions – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Title: The Palace of Illusions
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
ISBN: 9781400096206
Pages: 384
Release Date: February 11, 2008
Publisher: Anchor
Genre: Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Source: Library
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

The Mahabharata is an Indian epic comparable to The Iliad or The Odyssey in scope and breadth.  It’s the tale of the 5 Pandava brothers, all married to the same woman, Draupadi, and the war they fight against their cousins.  It has gods and men, war and conquest – but Divakaruni tells the story from the point of view of Draupadi, reweaving this complicated tale through the eyes of a woman.

Review:

I’ll begin with a confession:  I have never read The Mahabharata.  It’s something I’ve always meant to do…but it’s so long, and truth be told, I’ve never had a whole lot of interest in picking it up.  However, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions has changed all that.  Through this novel, I was able to appreciate the intricacy and beauty of this amazing epic story, and now I can’t wait to pick up the actual book.

I loved Divakaruni’s decision to retell this story from the point of view of one of the main women in the story.  As she mentions in the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, while there are a lot of strong, capable women in the Mahabharata, they aren’t fully fleshed out.  Divakaruni rectifies this by making Draupadi a three-dimensional, incredibly appealing woman.  That’s not to say she’s perfect – she is petty, selfish and vengeful much of the time.  She behaves like a real woman might, which is very refreshing.

At the same time, despite Draupadi’s flaws, the author does an amazing job making her very sympathetic.  Though she makes a lot of mistakes in the novel, it’s easy to understand why.  On top of that, Draupadi develops as a character as the book progresses.  It’s very satisfying to witness her growth as a person.

Despite the fantastical elements of The Palace of Illusions, Divakaruni manages to create an vivid historical setting.  Indian mythology is weaved through it, including the story of Krishna, one of the Hindu gods.  Part of the reason I loved reading this book so much was because it told a lot of the stories I grew up hearing in a literary setting with fleshed out, realistic characters.

This is a book that I highly recommend, especially if you’re interested in Hindu mythology but don’t know where to start.  It’s very accessible and enjoyable to read.  Granted, it’s likely not as detailed as the actual Mahabharata, but that’s a good thing in this case.  It makes it more appealing to the everyday reader.  It’s gripping, beautifully written, and expertly crafted, and I can’t wait to read more of Divakaruni’s works.

Comments

  1. There’s been a bit of chatter in LibraryThing for this book and, consequently, for the Mahabharata and for the Ramayana.

    I so want to read all three, and just wish I could do it now. I’m already starting to think about what I want to do, reading-wise, next year. I’m thinking I want a lot more of the cultural epics, fables and stories and mythologies. There’s something in my soul reaching out for them. At least I get the Mabinogian this year.

    Loved your review 🙂

  2. There’s been a bit of chatter in LibraryThing for this book and, consequently, for the Mahabharata and for the Ramayana.

    I so want to read all three, and just wish I could do it now. I’m already starting to think about what I want to do, reading-wise, next year. I’m thinking I want a lot more of the cultural epics, fables and stories and mythologies. There’s something in my soul reaching out for them. At least I get the Mabinogian this year.

    Loved your review 🙂

  3. What a wonderful review. I enjoyed this author’s latest book One Amazing Thing! Try it!

  4. What a wonderful review. I enjoyed this author’s latest book One Amazing Thing! Try it!

  5. I was waiting for your review of this book. Just another reason to pick up this book soon. Thanks for an awesome review.

  6. I was waiting for your review of this book. Just another reason to pick up this book soon. Thanks for an awesome review.

  7. I’ve heard of this one before, and it sounds really good! Are you participating in the Really Old Classics challenge? B/c if you are, this would count for the bonus level – a retelling of a really old classic. 🙂

  8. I’ve heard of this one before, and it sounds really good! Are you participating in the Really Old Classics challenge? B/c if you are, this would count for the bonus level – a retelling of a really old classic. 🙂

  9. Wow, this sounds like a really great read! And something that is not normally what I would pick up for myself which makes me want to read it even more. Great review!

  10. Wow, this sounds like a really great read! And something that is not normally what I would pick up for myself which makes me want to read it even more. Great review!

  11. This sounds like a good read. Thanks for the back ground info on it. ..It helps when being exposed to new reads. Great Review.

  12. This sounds like a good read. Thanks for the back ground info on it. ..It helps when being exposed to new reads. Great Review.

  13. Oh I have this one!!! Does it count for your challenge too?

  14. Oh I have this one!!! Does it count for your challenge too?

  15. I have this one but haven’t read it yet. I remember my mom saying she didn’t enjoy it and that she found it untrue to the original form. I’ll try and pick it up, anyway!

    And the Mahabharata is well worth a read! I highly recommend Ramesh Menon’s translation.

  16. I have this one but haven’t read it yet. I remember my mom saying she didn’t enjoy it and that she found it untrue to the original form. I’ll try and pick it up, anyway!

    And the Mahabharata is well worth a read! I highly recommend Ramesh Menon’s translation.

  17. I recommend Mahabharta by RK Narayanan, if you are looking to get a fast but well rendered peek into the epic.
    I have read a lot of reviews about this book being very good. Must add it to my pile.

  18. I recommend Mahabharta by RK Narayanan, if you are looking to get a fast but well rendered peek into the epic.
    I have read a lot of reviews about this book being very good. Must add it to my pile.

  19. I know absolutely nothing about Hindu mythology, so this book sounds fascinating to me! Hope you’re feeling better.

  20. I know absolutely nothing about Hindu mythology, so this book sounds fascinating to me! Hope you’re feeling better.

  21. I’ve read the Bhagavad Gita, and know a bit about Hindu deities. This book sounds fantastic and I’m going to look out for it.

  22. I’ve read the Bhagavad Gita, and know a bit about Hindu deities. This book sounds fantastic and I’m going to look out for it.

  23. This sounds really interesting and the cover is just so beautiful, I’ll have to look for it.

  24. This sounds really interesting and the cover is just so beautiful, I’ll have to look for it.

  25. I’ve read parts of the Mahabharata, but never the whole thing. I watched a movie of it in one of my religion classes in college. I think I’d like this book.

  26. I’ve read parts of the Mahabharata, but never the whole thing. I watched a movie of it in one of my religion classes in college. I think I’d like this book.

  27. Hi, I had a Mahabharata phase sometime back, and I got myself 12-13 books in perspectives of different characters. I started off with ‘Yuganta’ and ‘Yajnaseni’, later I read this. Trust me, if you read the former 2 books, you will know what I am saying. ‘Palace of Illusions’ fails in its narrative when you compare with the earlier 2 books. They are just too good. I highly recommend those, unless of course, if you have already read them.

  28. Hi, I had a Mahabharata phase sometime back, and I got myself 12-13 books in perspectives of different characters. I started off with ‘Yuganta’ and ‘Yajnaseni’, later I read this. Trust me, if you read the former 2 books, you will know what I am saying. ‘Palace of Illusions’ fails in its narrative when you compare with the earlier 2 books. They are just too good. I highly recommend those, unless of course, if you have already read them.

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