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The Palace of Illusions: A Novel Paperback – February 10, 2009
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Having recently read "The Iliad," I was interested in parallels between the two books, or, more fundamentally, between "The Iliad" and the Mahabharat. Both deal with interactions between a pantheon of gods and humans. Both have flawed heroes whose destinies are ordained. Both have a war that causes grim and terrible slaughter.
"The Palace of Illusions" is nicely narrated by its central character, Panchaali. The voice in which she tells the tale felt suited to its setting, and is at times quite beautiful. I especially admired the eloquent and moving closing chapter. I note, however, that I did end up wondering when and to whom Panchaali was telling the story. This is a minor quibble, shared by many first person narratives.
My one major problem with the book is that I didn't like Panchaali. I can see that other readers might differ. Aspects of Panchaali's personality are very appealing. Her independent nature. Her intelligence. Her strength. But, for me, these were not sufficient to offset negative traits, including her deeply vengeful nature and her deficiency of kindness. Since I'm the type of reader who strongly prefers likable protagonists, this substantially reduced my enjoyment.
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. There are magical weapons, conflict, lust, jealousy, anger, but also heroism, justice, and most of all, love. While I was already familiar with the story, there were enough new elements there to keep the tale fresh and revealing. And Draupadi is quite different than just about any other princess in literature -- instead of being a passive player, here she is the prime cause of the Pandavas' deadly feud towards their cousins, the treacherous Kauravas, and how they avenge her humiliation and degradation at their hands. She's also prideful, arrogant, and downright b!tchy in spots, not afraid to harangue her husbands, and even long for a man who has a secret that will change everything -- if he dares to do so.
In fact, I found the character of Karna, a brilliant and honorable warrior, who is more kingly than those born to the role, the most interesting one in the book. Despite that there isn't much in the book that has him as a player in the story, he is throughout the story, and the frustrated desire of Draupadi that is never hinted at in public, but colours nearly all of her actions and thoughts.
For anyone who is interested in the myths and legends of India, this is a must-read. Divakaruni's writing is brisk and imaginative, delving into the innermost thoughts of Draupadi, and making her a very believable and human character. While keeping track of all of the various characters and their rather intricate names can be a bit of a chore, the author has thoughtfully provided a glossary of all of the characters and a family tree to keep everyone straight. Unusually, the author's note is at the beginning of the book, rather than at the end, and she discusses her reasons for writing this story.
All in all, this was a very good novel, full of surprises and insights, and moved very quickly. For those who are looking for something unusual, this one should fit the bill quite nicely.
Four and a half stars, rounded off to four. Recommended.
The Palace of Illusions
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
2008; Doubleday Books
The Karna-Draupadi angle is not that famous in the original texts, but the author has done a commendable job in showcasing various layers of Draupadi in particular.
I ended up finishing this book in a few hours, and it was a good and interesting read. I tend to go and re-read certain books again, but this book sadly, is not one of them, just because I have read better versions of the Mahabharata. Although I would certainly recommend it for a read atleast once.
This is a very good novel. I like it a lot. I recommend it. For details, see other places where I have reviewed it.
I am an Indian and have immersive experience of stories and anecdotes of Mahabharat and Ramayan,
This was a very different and fresh perspective. Some of the thoughts are very original and ingenious.
For example the reason why Karn (despite of being better archer and more evolved person) is defeated/killed by Arjun.
I strongly suggest to read - and suggest to kids above 10 years of age to read.
She brings a very different perspective.