Book Review: The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I tend to avoid retelling of Epic stories from some character point of view, since  I feel that the magic of the story will be lost when we know more about the characters. They will look more humane and less magical. This book was an exception, owing to the rave reviews and my own curiosity to read more about enigmatic Draupadi.

The story is nothing new. I grew up listening to the tales from my grandfather and saw those characters portrayed by a thousand different actors in movies and serials. The writing was crisp, to the point and held my attention from page one even if the story was not new. We know more about Draupadi, her childhood, her marriage and her inner most feelings. The prose is almost lyrical and stays with us even after closing the book.

I can pour heaps of praise on the way she dealt with the subject. Nowhere is Panchaali shown as a helpless woman. She's shown to be a strong woman who rebels against the norms of the period. It's however sad that she too becomes a pawn in the hands of men who don't love her. We see several new angles: for example I never knew Draupadi had some unexplained crush on Karna. It was almost irritating to hear a married woman to no less than five husbands constantly talk about Karna and how he holds an important place in her life. I don't know where the author did her research but this is exactly why I hate retelling of Epic stories. Authors take their liberty and interpret stories in their own way. I can never look at Draupadi the same way again. And the angle with Krishna, even though doesn't cross the boundaries, is also mildly irritating.

Nevertheless, I liked her attachment with her brother, Subadhra, Sikhandi, and Dai ma. Some scenes I wanted to read like disrobing of Draupadi and later when she ties her hair again with Dussasan's blood were probably not given enough space. And some other like her obsession with the Palace of Illusions were given more space than necessary.

The book is a page turner and worth the money you spend on it. Pick it up if you want to read the timeless tale again, this time in another point of view. My rating 4/5.

Some quotes I liked:

“Love comes like lightning, and disappears the same way. If you are lucky, it strikes you right. If not, you'll spend your life yearning for a man you can't have.”

“There was an unexpected freedom in
finding out that one wasn't as important as one had always assumed!”

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