Review: The Palace of Illusions


A proud, egoistical princess. A proud, illegitimate prince. Five noble husbands. A 100 enemies. A divine ally and a war which will change the face of Bharath forever. Of course, I'm talking about the greatest of all the Indian mythological epics - the Mahabharata. And Chitra Benerjee Divakaruni's thoroughly involving version, the Palace of Illusions.

'Palace of Illusions' is the Mahabharata re-told from the feminine perspective and who better to take us through it than the woman who will be the cause of the Great War - the exquisite Princess Draupadi.

We follow Draupadi from her extraordinary birth through her teenage years, and get to know her as the little bit of woman in every one of us - spoiled, egoistical, foolish in love and with the desire to do great things to chart her course in history, and come to know the woman she becomes. A woman moulded by the fire which gave birth to her and flamed by the desire for vengeance until her future lies scorched in the blazing heat of that same spark she ignites.

Divakaruni's handling of Draupadi's thoughts, wishes and dseires is masterful, making the woman who seems to be an enigma in the original version of the great epic come to life between her pages. But, she is of course at her best with the effective, imaginative prose layered all through the story, and also describing simple people like Dhai Ma. One can imagine one's favorite grandmother or dai bent over a stove and ladling out the same effective doses of wisdom. And the treatment of Krishna is inspired! He is fun-loving, caring, taunting, a wise councillor, a dreaded enemy, but always that little bit inscrutable, much as every account of the God seems to relate.

It is not easy to retell a story which most Indian knows the salient points of and keep it fresh, but Ms. Divakaruni manages this with astonishing ease with her first person POV. She evidently has the epic well-in-hand as she uses tales out of chronology to illustrate a point, such as the story of Ekalavya, Drona's hapless disciple.

Possibly the only shortcoming I find with this book was that it was brief, but how can one condense the Mahabharata anyway. I did find myself wishing that Ms. Divakaruni had used her ample imagination and vivid prose to explore the other feminine perspectives too, Kunti comes to mind. Possibly the other disappointment was that with saddling herself with a biased point of view, we dont get any insight to the one character who is the most tantalising and mysterious of them all - Karna. I think I will have to look up Shivaji Sawant's much-acclaimed Mrityunjay after all!!!


Bouncing-Bubble said...

I'm yet to read this! Not buying any bks here, but guess I shd hv gone ahead and bought this one.... All bks reserved in the libr after this I'm done with!

Wonderful post!

Amit said...

Do you entertain only bibliophiles here? I am not really one, but anyway!

First, I am yest to discover..But whats this 'couchpapaya'? Couch Potato ive heard, but couchpapaya?
Please enlighten!

did i see the same book being reviewed on smita's blog too?

Mama - Mia said...

now i HAVE to buy the book!! first Smita and now you!! :)

and yes, you HAVE to read Mrityunjay!! its bloody brilliant!! i was sobbing by the end of it!! your heart just breaks at the injustice of it!

loved your description of Krishna! :)



Smita said...

:D :D :D :D

Am so so glad you loved the book.

Krishnaa's character is the one which had hooked me the most. Before Palace happened to me Krishna's was a God for me post the book he is kind of a lovable hero for me.

Thats the magic of the book. What was myth & story of God's is a believable story now.

Am ithcing to re-read it :)

Lovely-2 review :)

couchpapaya said...

bubbles - let's have ur review when done :)

amit - everyone's welcome here !!! and sinec i cannot come up with original stuff, reviews it will have to be :( abt the name, 'potato' factor just didnt have that zing to it !!! i did a post when i just started abt the name, dig it up if ur really, really, really interested :P

couchpapaya said...

abha - hey, did u read it in marathi or a translation??? i'm always worried that the tranlation wont have the same effect. have grown up with parents/ relatives praising the book but am a bit daunted by the marathi aspect :(

smita - ya i did like that it was mahabharata lite :) and, also cbd's writing style .... i was v. intrigued by karna, because unlike krishna i dont seem to have ever read anything abt him. now i'm going to have to dig up some books !!! :)

avdi said...

Mujhe Jeene Do.. You guys are makig me want to read this so bad. :) I guess I will JUST HAVE TO.

Avionic Spanker said...

papaya factor, couchpapaya .. strong attachment to papayas, eh?

Nice stuff. I have picked up this book to read as well.

Mama - Mia said...

p - i read it in marathi!! and the language used is really simple!! plus you get sooo hooked, you wint notice its marathi abd not english!!

i dont even know if there is a translation! but since you know marathi, i giuess sticking to original will be a richer experience!! :D



samir said...

p --- Another great review on PoI.
As I told Smita, I have already read it; and am glad that both of you have reviewed it. Needless to say it is an excellent book.
Read with interest the tidbit about Mrityunjay between you and Abha, I will try and read it (in Marathi).
BTW --- Meant to comment a lonmg time ago; but "stained glass" and golf are certainly one-of-kind interests together.

Amit said...


I did manage to dig up...:)

But more than just the explanation factor, it gave me an insight into what all you had painfully managed to write down without worrying about the initial response..I mean, just look at it - '0 comments' for quite some time, but still the passion continued..The love of writing! And shall I say it is really really wondeful?! I mean there is a very pro touch to the way you write - be it a review or anything else!

And did you somehow include a link to my blog too here? That was so sweet of you:) Thanks!


couchpapaya said...

avdi - oh good, the point got across :)

spanker - actually i hate them! and, will refrain from making a similar comment on ur nick :D how is it going with the book?

abha - marathi it is! thanks for the faith here ... my mom greeted by announcement to read in the original with ominous silence followed by a hearty bout of laughter :(

couchpapaya said...

samir - good to see u here!! now will wait for u to start writing (thanks for increasing my vocab btw :) ... let me know if u manage to locate mrityunjay here, i'm thinking the folks will have to ship it from back home. heh if u knew me better, u'd know the interests are varied and short term, currently it's piano :D

amit - wow, thanks for actually taking the time out to read .... not sure if i'm thankful for pointing out the no comment bit hmphf! not so much a love for writing as an outlet for boredom.

WhatsInAName said...

Brillianto review.. as always.
I have read the book as well and have loved it too. One thing which draws me to Chitra is the sheer simplicty of her words which when joined become a prose by themselves!
Coming to prose, have you read Yajnaseni? Its on the same lines. A first person account by Draupadi. Ofcourse the story line differs a little bit... nevertheless thats good too.

couchpapaya said...

WIAN - excellent, thanks for recommending ... off to see if i can find it somewhere :D

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