Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mythology.
I had read the summary of this book in Goodreads and decided that I need to get my hands on it taking into account my affinity towards mythology. Every Indian would be familiar with the two epics, Ramayana & Mahabharata. I still remember,when I was a kid how my family used to huddle in front of the television on Sundays to watch the TV version of Mahabharata. Even though I was familiar with the concept of Mahabharata, I was still at a loss about many important characters. So the choosing of this book seemed more appealing.
I was not sure how exactly I should review this book, especially since it deals with one of the most famous & powerful epics of India. So firstly I'll just go ahead and give you a very brief summary of Mahabharata. I stressed on, very brief, because the whole Mahabharata extends into 19 volumes! Yup!
Okay here we go..Mahabharata is the story of the Pandavas consisting of 5 brothers and their wife Panchaali and the Kauravas consisting of 100 brothers. The story, if vaguely told would be..Pandavas and Kauravas being cousins; their constant fight to get to the throne which each of the brothers think its their own. As from the TV show which I watched when I was kid, it was engraved in my mind that the Pandavas were the good guys and the Kauravas were the bad guys. However as time passed and thinking about it, its not all that simple. Reading this book proved my point. How, as the point of view changes, the role of the good and evil too changes!
The language and the writing style is lucid and descriptive and very easy on the eyes. The words were like silk to touch!
In The Palace Of Illusions, the story is depicted from Panchaali aka Draupadi's point of view. Panchaali is the first person narrator. The 'palace' here is Indraprasth which is the palace which was built by the Pandavas and Panchaali, the only place where she felt home. The story begins with the naive Panchaali, then known as Draupadi, the daughter of King Draupad, who grows into a beautiful woman, how she has a premonition about the role to play in her life and how she is won in marriage by Arjun (3rd brother of Pandavas) and how to her horror she has to be taken as the wife of the rest of the Pandava brothers.
Krishna advising Arjun just before the War
There are scenes where Panchaali shows reluctance on being a mother to her children.'Less maternal', according to her.
The plot continues as she nurses an attraction towards Karna-sworn enemy of Pandavas, how vengeance and revenge comes in her way and how the great war happens.
What I liked the most was Panchaali came across as a person who is brutally honest about her weaknesses, shortcomings, selfishness, her attraction towards Karna and her friendship with Krishna, all the time making her more human. Humans make mistakes and may or may not learn from them making Panchaali one among them. She accepts the reasons behind the great war was herself, but if we look closer, she was just a catalyst for the war. There was already a lot of turmoil between the cousins.
Krishna, even though doesn't even touch a weapon in Mahabharta, according to my opinion could have stopped the war from happening.
The two characters I felt pity for was Karna and Bheema.
Karna- he was wronged and it was no fault of his. He deserved so much better. Even though Panchaali is portrayed as losing her heart to him, she still rejects him. The readers would empathize with that character.
Bheema- being the second brother in the Pandavas. Known to be the strongest. The one who fell head over heels for Panchaali, only to manipulated by her. She describes how even though she doesn't 'love' him, however does treat him like how a husband should be treated.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. Did it do justice to the epic? No Not really. As I mentioned it is a whole 19 volumes, and this book was a mere 384 pages. Nevertheless, for a person who is curious to know about this great epic from a woman's point of view, this is the book for you.