From Publishers Weekly
Recasting the Indian epic Mahabharata
from the perspective of Princess Panchaali, veteran novelist Divakaruni (Queen of Dream
) offers a vivid and inventive companion to the renowned poem. Born from fire and marked with the prophecy that she will change the course of history, the strong-willed Panchaali declares early on that she won't spend her life merely supporting the men around her. Soon enough, she bucks tradition by simultaneously wedding all five famous Pandava brothers, who have been denied their rightful kingdom, and finds herself the happy mistress of the much-envied palace of illusions. Panchaali's joy is short-lived, however, when hubris, fate and the desire for vengeance in reclaiming the Pandavas' kingdom (all also prophesied) cause her and her husbands to make mistakes that have cascading political effects, shattering peace in the region. Devastation ensues, but spiritual remarks from the divine Krishna put life and death in a cosmic context. Despite an intrusive retrospective voice (I didn't know then how sorely...love would be tested) and a sometimes heavy-handed feminism, Divakaruni's rich, action-filled narrative contrasts well with the complex psychological portrait of a mythic princess. (Feb.)
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*Starred Review* The double bind that torques women’s lives is Divakaruni’s key theme in lambent novels and short stories about women who immigrate to America from India, and the curious ways the deep past seeps into the present. Divakaruni often weaves glimmering threads from the Hindu sagas into her fiction, and now, in her twelfth book, she goes directly to the source, the Mahabharat, India’s most magnificent epic, and boldly retells this Homeric tale of a battle for supremacy between two branches of a ruling dynasty––and dramatization of the internal war between emotion and reason––from the point of view of its central female character. Smart, resilient, and courageous Panchaali, born of fire, marries all five of the famously heroic Pandava brothers, harbors a secret love, endures a long exile in the wilderness, instigates a catastrophic war, and slowly learns the truth about Krishna, her mysterious friend. By rendering the women characters as complexly as the men, and fully illuminating the “insanity of war” and the fragility of civilization, Divakaruni’s historic and transporting variation adds new and truly revelatory psychological and social dimensions to the great epic’s indelible story of sacrifice and spiritual awakening. Divakaruni has triumphantly fulfilled a profound mission. --Donna Seaman