Title: The Palace of Illusions
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Release Date: February 11, 2008
Genre: Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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.
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.