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The Palace of Illusions: A Novel Hardcover – February 12, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

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 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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From Booklist

*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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (February 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385515995
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385515993
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #461,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's acclaimed novels for adults include the bestselling The Mistress of Spices, soon to be a motion picture. Her previous book for young readers, The Conch Bearer, was a Booklist Editors' Choice, Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, and is a 2005 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee. She teaches creative writing at the University of Houston and lives with her husband and two sons in Sugarland, Texas.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Fikus Tree on February 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
First I think it is important to mention that I have never read the Mahabharata on which "The Palace of Illusions in Based". I have read various Indian short stories, myths, and teachings including several translations of the Yoga Sutras. I was always intimidated by the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita because they are written in verse which to me is easier to listen to then read. They are also predominantly about war and battles which is generally not an interest not something I enjoy reading about. I was attracted to Illusion both because it was a retelling of the story which I knew wouldn't focus on battles and from the perspective of the female characters in the book. I know that many will scoff at the idea of this but I feel completely encouraged now to read both Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita because now I will have a context to put them in and an easier time reading the verse.

Reading this book was similar to reading "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West". The story is told from the point of view of Panchaali and she narrates the story starting when she is very young. Whole chapters have other characters telling stories that Panchaali is not involved in as a dialogue between herself and other characters. I especially enjoyed this technique in an early chapter when she and her brother Dhri go back and forth about how their father's generation got into their current problems. Her nanny tells her the story of her birth through fire and other stories come along the way. For the most part Panchaali talks about what she is experiencing and how she feels about things. She starts with very child-like ideas but as the story progresses some depth is acquired.

Overall I loved the story.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Huston on March 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I was a child, there was a book in the school's library that enchanted me -- The Five Sons of King Pandu by Elizabeth Seeger. A simplified retelling of the massive Indian classic, The Mahabharata, it centers mostly around the stories of five brothers, semi-divine beings who go literally from rags to riches to enlightenment to the sound of battles and heroic deeds.

And even more central to the story is of the remarkable Draupadi, the exquisite princess who becomes the wife of the five brothers -- all at the same time. But along with the Pandavas, Draupadi also acquires Kunti, her demanding, bitter mother-in-law. Chitra Benerjee Divakaruni takes this story, and by telling it through the eyes of Draupadi, gives it all a unique spin.

For Draupadi -- or Panchaali, as she also named -- is also the product of a magical birth. Born in the flames of a fire, she and her twin brother, Dhristadyumna, destined to fulfill their father's terrible thirst for revenge against his sworn brother, Drona. There is also their cousin, Krishna, dark-skinned and irresistible to both men and women, and who seemingly can't give a straight answer without a riddle attached. Draupadi finds herself longing for a marriage to a brave prince, who will make her a dazzling queen in her own palace -- but when a fortune-teller prophecies that not only will she have just that, but also bring about the end of the Third Age of Man, Draupadi starts to suspect that having exactly what she wants may not be the same as wanting it. For when the contest is held to pick her husband-to-be, not only is she a contested prize, but she meets someone that will change her life forever... and change the course of the great civil war that is to come.

I have to say, this is quite a novel.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Ratmammy VINE VOICE on February 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
THE PALACE OF ILLUSIONS by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Rating: 4/5 stars

February 23, 2008

For fans of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, THE PALACE OF ILLUSIONS is quite a departure from her previous novels. In her most current work, Divakaruni attempts to take the tale of the Mahabharat, the longest epic poem in history, and rewrites it so that the focus is now on the woman that played a large part in this epic tale. Panchaali, the woman who is fated to marry five men of royal birth, tells the story of her life and how she and her marriage changes the course of history.

The story starts with Panchaali's childhood, which is not one that was typical in her day. She manages to get an education alongside her brother, although it is forbidden for girls to go to school, and she learns the ways of War and other important topics needed to rule a kingdom.

When a wise man comes to her and tells her that she will eventually marry five brothers and be the cause of a Great War, Panchaali of course does not believe it. But as one by one the prophecies come true, Panchaali knows that her life has been fated to end in tragedy.

THE PALACE OF ILLUSIONS is the epic tale of a woman who finds herself to be the catalyst of a war that will change the lives of many in ancient India. One may want to compare this tale to the likes of Homer's famous epics, with Indian gods and royalty living as one. It's also a tale of love and passion, with a strong emphasis on tragedy. I found that this was not an easy read, but when I finally reached the end of the story, I had a sense of satisfaction at having read such an admirable piece of writing.
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