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Book Review

The Palace of Illusions – Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni

Most of us are familiar with the Mahabharata and are sure to have heard numerous versions and perspectives of this glorious Indian epic while growing up. While the tale essentially deals with the clash between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, it is also rich in philosophy and provides a profound knowledge of human nature making it very relevant to today’s war-torn world.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions is a retelling of the Mahabharata, but this time it is from the viewpoint of Draupadi or Panchali, the wife of the five Pandavas, who was, as the legend goes, born out of fire and sent into this world to change its destiny. While Draupadi is a well-known character in the Mahabharata, few have attempted to understand her perspective in all the events that took place.
We get a glimpse into her turbulent life – her clash with her mother-in-law over the control of the household, her deep yet complicated friendship with the enigmatic Krishna, and her secret attraction to Karna, her husband’s most dangerous enemy. More importantly, we get a feminist perspective of the epic, an area which is still largely unexplored.

Instead of being portrayed as a demure and traditional Indian woman, the author paints a very human picture of the fiery Panchali which is quite easy to relate to. Her pride, her fiery temper, her resilience, her secret desires are laid bare to the reader and you find yourself getting completely immersed in this extraordinary tale.

What is most commendable about Divakaruni’s work is that she gives a faithful and lucid account of the Mahabharata albeit in a truly modern way. All her characters come to life and you don’t feel that they are Gods or Demons but normal human beings who do not seem extraordinary. Moreover, she explains many ancient myths, legends and prophecies, answers to which the reader would never have known if he/she had read any other representation of the epic.

The Palace of Illusions is an interesting and insightful read and definitely recommended for everyone!

– Aditi Kotwal

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