Book Review: The Palace of Illusions

Title: The Palace of Illusions

Originally published: 1 January 2008

Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Pages: 384

Genres: Historical Fiction

‘The Palace of Illusions’ is a retelling of Mahabharata from Panchaali’s point of view. The author gives us a new interpretation of the ancient tale which is narrated by Panchaali, the wife of the legendary Pandavas and traces her journey from the moment of her birth in fire to her falling down in the Himalayas.

The novel traces the extraordinary life of the enigmatic Panchaali or Draupadi who was born for a higher purpose. A surprising turn of events led her marriage to the five Pandavas who had been cheated out of their father’s kingdom by their ambitious cousin Duryodhana. After long years of exile, a little respite comes to her during her years in Indraprastha where she lives in her majestic palace built by the illusionary Maya. This palace of illusions is where Panchaali truly feels at home but it is this very palace where seeds of bitter revenge are sown in the hearts of Kauravas for their cousins. When Panchaali is dishonoured in the royal assembly of Hastinapur, she curses the Kuru clan and becomes the reason for  a terrible civil war that was fought bringing unparalleled destruction and bloodshed.

I was so eager to read the book after reading innumerable praises and reviews online. I picked up the book with high expectations as the story itself held much potential. Panchaali is a fiery female who redefined the course of history. However, the book proved to be quite a letdown as it tries to encompass the whole epic but with major deviations from the original story.

In fact, it’s better to call the book as fan fiction rather than a retelling of Mahabharta. Panchaali is described as an immature, short-tempered and jealous woman who is thirsty for revenge. As if that’s not enough, she has a bitter relationship with her mother-in-law Queen Kunti. Now Queen Kunti is a revered character who solely brought up her five sons and raised them to be the finest and bravest warriors of the era. But the author has portrayed her as a dominating mother who is insecure of her daughter-in-law. The most ridiculous episode is the one where she asks Panchaali to cook brinjal but doesn’t give her the required ingredients. But Panchaali manages to cook a perfect dish and when the husbands praise the food, she considers it as her first victory over Kunti.

Throughout the book, Panchaali is pining for Karna whom she had rejected during her swayamvar. This imaginary love story of Panchaali and Karna is totally unnecessary and highly annoying too. At every point, Panchaali is yearning for a glimpse of Karna and craves for an appreciative glance from him. And the scene of her soul  uniting with Karna in heaven sounds like it has been lifted from 90s high school sitcoms …Heights of absurdity! Panchali gets divine vision to see the happenings in the war- yet another deviation from Mahabharta. I wish the author had stayed true to the original story and then it would have been a really enjoyable book.

The high point for me in the book is the portrayal of the beautiful friendship of Panchaali with the divine Krishna. Krishna wafts in like a fragrance and lingers on after he has left leaving Panchaali pondering over His ambiguous words of wisdom. He has a special bond with everyone she knows well but yet she believes herself to be His dearest friend. He calls her ‘sakhi’ or ‘Krishnaa’, the female version of His own name. When in distress, Panchaali can think of nobody else but Krishna and He is always there for her just as He is always there for His true devotees.

You might like the book if you are not bothered with the liberties the author has taken with the story. However, I felt that the Panchaali-Karna love story was just a marketing gimmick of intriguing the readers which I couldn’t relate to at all. For someone looking for an introduction to Mahabharta, this book is a big NO. The book is quite shallow and vapid. I won’t recommend this book to anyone simply because in the name of presenting Draupadi’s point of view, the author has distorted the grand epic and reduced Draupdai’s dignified character to that of a petty woman.

©2018 Shaloo Walia All rights reserved

Advertisements

14 comments

    1. I really wonder how these new age authors can distort our scriptures! And the worst thing is that the readers also seem to love it 🙁

      1. To each his or her own, I suppose. I find the Indian youth of today especially the boys on a high horse, especially the author. One male author threatened me recently, other blogger commented on my patriotism because I refused to review a book from his favorite author. It has come to the point where I mark all such requests as spam. As I am fed up of correcting them.
        I hardly read such new age authors, as they don’t ask me to read their book, they tell me to read. I can understand your pain.
        Also I didn’t know Karna went to Panchali’s swayamwar to win her hand. I thought Duryodhan wanted her.

        1. I remember your post about the same. I have faced the same when I shared this review on my fb page as people mocked me for considering Mahabharta as history and not for having an open mind for various interpretations of the epic. I picked the book after reading such rave reviews elsewhere but was disappointed.
          Karna had gone to the swayamvar but he wasn’t allowed to participate for being a suta-putra. When Duryodhana failed the task then he asked Karna to participate.

          1. Well, it is a review, you wrote what you liked and what you disliked. Why didn’t those idiots focus on what you liked? A book is a personal journey, some may like, some may not. But people only want to criticize

          2. Some people don’t know how to accept others’ opinions. I am fine with a healthy discussion but I cannot tolerate rude remarks from strangers. It’s best to ignore such trolls.

          3. I agree but sometimes everything just goes to a limit and then I politely sometimes rudely tell people to back off.
            I hope you get better books and better reads.
            I have started blog tour services for authors. I didn’t know whether to approach you, since I know you read and review books. This can either be information about my new venture or invitation, as you wish 😉😘

Leave a Reply