The Palace of Illusions: A Novel

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Overview

Taking us back to a time that is half history, half myth and wholly magical, The Palace of Illusions gives new voice to Panchaali, the fire-born heroine of the Mahabharat, as she weaves a vibrant interpretation of an ancient tale. Married to five royal husbands who have been cheated out of their father's kingdom, Panchaali aids their quest to reclaim their birthright, remaining at their side through years of exile and a terrible civil war. But she cannot deny her complicated friendship with the enigmatic ...
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Overview

Taking us back to a time that is half history, half myth and wholly magical, The Palace of Illusions gives new voice to Panchaali, the fire-born heroine of the Mahabharat, as she weaves a vibrant interpretation of an ancient tale. Married to five royal husbands who have been cheated out of their father's kingdom, Panchaali aids their quest to reclaim their birthright, remaining at their side through years of exile and a terrible civil war. But she cannot deny her complicated friendship with the enigmatic Krishna—or her secret attraction to the mysterious man who is her husbands' most dangerous enemy—as she is caught up in the ever-manipulating hands of fate.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A radiant entree into an ancient mythology virtually unknown to the Western world. . . . Remarkable.” —Houston Chronicle “A mythic tale brimming with warriors, magic and treachery. . . . Divakaruni's sentences dazzle; the images she creates are masterful.” —Los Angeles Times “Complex, beautifully wrought. . . . Divakaruni's feminist reading of Indian lore offers readers a magical lens into the political interplay of gender, castes, birthright and life in the monarchy. . . . A writer to watch.” —Rocky Mountain News “Divakaruni's prose is as spirited as Panchaali herself, written with energy and humor.” —Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel "Epics are intended to be accessible to the most extensive of audiences. And with The Palace of Illusions Divakaruni likewise makes this reimagining of the "Mahabharat" easy to understand through the simple, straightforward narrative. Moreover, Divakaruni masterfully describes the lyrical beauty of Indians and the elegant logic of Hinduism."—San Antonio News Express "The Palace of Illusions is not only an exciting, action-packed read, but also an educating one, and will likely encourage those curious enough to delve into the original Mahabharata."—Erin Kobayashi, Toronto Star "Enchanting.... Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl—now we can add Divakaruni's The Palace of Illusions to the list."—The Miami Herald "The Palace of Illusions is unique, amongst Divakaruni's very best. It is particularly refreshing to read an author who breaks the mold as clearly as Divakaruni does.... A creative, illuminating feminist work that compels us to re-examine the original text.... As in all great cathartic tales, Divakaruni's novel grasps our attention from beginning to end and is a healing, aesthetic experience."—India Currents "Divakaruni has taken a male-centered story and breathed new life into its female characters, giving us a rich tale of passion and love, power and weakness, honor and humiliation. Whether or not readers are familiar with the "Mahabharat" epic, still fascinating and relevant several millennia on, they will enjoy this entertaining, insightful, and suspenseful story."—The Union, Nevada City"Known for writing on the modern Indian immigrant experience in novels such as "Queen of Dreams," Divakaruni goes back in time, this time with a novel look at the ancient Indian epic "The Mahabharat" (think: an Indian "Iliad"). With hundreds of characters in the story of a great war, she tells the story from the point of view of a woman - Panchaali - who is married to five brothers"—New York Post "Divakaruni has woven a lyrical tale imbued with the scent of ancient incense, yet simultaneously rooted in modern-day relevancy. Brimming with betrayals, religious fervor and war-torn streets, The Palace of Illusions is a journey experienced from the vantage point of Panchaali, a powerful woman dfiven by love, honor and, in the end, a fate that unfolds despite her resolve."—Karen Ann Cullotta, Bookpage"Your truly epic narrative myth calls for bitter experience descending, avalanch-like, down dynasties, incorporating dramatic turning points of ineradicable impact; curses; looming fates; tricky and meddlesome gods; feuds; sages, sorcerers and wars. These elements and many more are found in abundance in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's new novel, The Palace of Illusions, which ambitiously encapsulates the Indian epic "Mahabharat" within a 360-page novel.—Elsbeth Lindner, San Francisco Chronicle "By rendering the women characters as complexly as the men, and fully illuminating the "insanity of war" and the fragility of civilization, Divakaruni's historic and transporting variation adds new and truly revelatory psychological and social dimensions to the great epic's indelible story of sacrifice and spiritual awakening. Divakaruni has triumphantly fulfilled a profound mission."—Donna Seaman, Booklist "Divakaruni has taken a male-centered story and breathed new life into its female characters, giving us a rich tale of passion and love, power and weakness, honor and humiliation. Whether or not readers are familiar with the Mahabharat epic, still fascinating and relevant several millennia on, they will enjoy this entertaining, insightful and suspenseful story. Recommended for all fiction collections."—Joy Humphrey, Library Journal "The Palace of Illusions is as grand and tragic as the epic poems by Homer. The story is complex, as political relationships grow and develop, and friends and enemies are created, leading to battles and wars that will eventually destroy them all. I was captivated by the tragic storyline and the fate into which Panchaali was born. This admirable attempt to recreate the epic Mahabharat from the viewpoint of a strong woman is Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's best work yet."—Marie Hashima Lofton, Bookreporter.com"For more than 20 years now, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has been telling stories of Indian women from her home in California. Her women are desperate, wonderful, complicated, lyrical, memorable, even magical.... Chitra's women experience love, loss and longing through tangled marriages, bitter divorces, childbirth, abortion, abuse, violence, racism, poverty and riches. Now, in a daring novel out this month, Banerjee Divakaruni returns to a fantastic world, inhabited by kings, queens, villains and sorcerers."—Vogue India "Vivid and inventive.... Divakaruni's rich, action-filled narrative contrasts well with the complex psychological portrait of a mythic princess."—Publishers Weekly"Divakaruni offers a quasi-feminist retelling of the great Hindu text known as the Mahabharat...an intimate, feminine portrait that is both contemporary and timeless. An ambitious project effectively executed."—Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Recasting the Indian epic Mahabharatafrom the perspective of Princess Panchaali, veteran novelist Divakaruni (Queen of Dream) offers a vivid and inventive companion to the renowned poem. Born from fire and marked with the prophecy that she will change the course of history, the strong-willed Panchaali declares early on that she won't spend her life merely supporting the men around her. Soon enough, she bucks tradition by simultaneously wedding all five famous Pandava brothers, who have been denied their rightful kingdom, and finds herself the happy mistress of the much-envied palace of illusions. Panchaali's joy is short-lived, however, when hubris, fate and the desire for vengeance in reclaiming the Pandavas' kingdom (all also prophesied) cause her and her husbands to make mistakes that have cascading political effects, shattering peace in the region. Devastation ensues, but spiritual remarks from the divine Krishna put life and death in a cosmic context. Despite an intrusive retrospective voice ("I didn't know then how sorely...love would be tested") and a sometimes heavy-handed feminism, Divakaruni's rich, action-filled narrative contrasts well with the complex psychological portrait of a mythic princess. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Mahabharat, the Sanskrit epic of ancient India, tells of two noble families, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, who battle each other over rule of the Hastinapura kingdom. Divakaruni (The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming) retells this drama from the perspective of Panchaali, the wife of all five Pandava brothers. Born from fire, Panchaali has led an unusual life from the outset. Unlike other women, she has no interest in typical female endeavors; she would rather be tutored alongside her brother in the art of war and the machinations of ruling a kingdom. Also unlike other women, she is married to five men-all of whom love and respect her. But Panchaali's heart belongs to her husbands' enemy, the famous warrior Karna. Divakaruni has taken a male-centered story and breathed new life into its female characters, giving us a rich tale of passion and love, power and weakness, honor and humiliation. Whether or not readers are familiar with the Mahabharat epic, still fascinating and relevant several millennia on, they will enjoy this entertaining, insightful, and suspenseful story. Recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/07.]
—Joy Humphrey

Kirkus Reviews
Divakaruni (Queen of Dreams, 2005, etc.) offers a quasi-feminist retelling of the great Hindu text known as the Mahabharata. Among the world's longest epic poems and dated to the 5th century BCE, the Mahabharata traces the dynasty of the Pandava brothers, from the circumstances of their birth to the great war fought for the honor of Panchaali to their last days in search of spiritual peace. Gods intervene, divine weapons waylay whole battalions, a fantastical palace inspires a war, yet Divakaruni manages to keep the story human and relevant, also about a woman, her marriage, her mother-in-law. The plot remains essentially true to the original, but here the story is narrated by Panchaali, born out of fire to avenge her father. It is decreed that she will change history, and she certainly begins well when she marries all five of the Pandava brothers (by a strange bit of misunderstanding, the brothers' mother insists that the brothers must share all of their good fortune). Panchaali becomes queen and builds for herself the Palace of Illusions, the most magnificent dwelling on earth, made of marble and magic. But Panchaali's worldly triumphs are paired with her spiritual failings: her pride, her need for vengeance and the secret love she holds for Karna, her husbands' greatest enemy. When her husband Yudhisthir loses their kingdom gambling, Panchaali and her husbands are forced into forest exile for 12 years, and when they re-emerge, they begin the war that will pit all the kings of India against each other, and will fulfill the prophesy of Panchaali's birth. Throughout the story, there is one constant in Panchaali's life-the benevolent presence of Krishna, her greatest friend (she vaguelysuspects he is divine) and ally. Occasionally the novel falls flat-decades and events flash by with mere mention, one suspects a result of compressing such a rich work into such a small space-but Divakaruni mostly succeeds in creating an intimate, feminine portrait that is both contemporary and timeless. An ambitious project effectively executed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400096206
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/10/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 195,450
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of the bestselling novels Queen of Dreams, Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, and The Vine of Desire, and of the prizewinning story collections Arranged Marriage and The Unknown Errors of Our Lives. She lives in Houston, Texas, and teaches creative writing at the University of Houston.

Good To Know

Some outtakes from our interview with Divakaruni:

"During graduate school, I used to work in the kitchen of the International House at the University of California, Berkeley. My favorite task was slicing Jell-O."

"I love Chinese food, but my family hates it. So when I'm on book tour I always eat Chinese!"

"I almost died on a pilgrimage trip to the Himalayas some years back -- but I got a good story out of it. The story is in The Unknown Errors of Our Lives -- let's see if readers can figure out which one it is!"

"Writing is so central to my life that it leaves little time/desire/need for other interests.. I do a good amount of work with domestic violence organizations -- I'm on the advisory board of Asians Against Domestic Violence in Houston. I feel very strongly about trying to eradicate domestic violence from our society."

"My favorite ways to unwind are to do yoga, read, and spend time with my family."

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    1. Hometown:
      Houston, Texas, and San Jose, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 29, 1956
    2. Place of Birth:
      Kolkata, India
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Kolkata University 1976; Ph.D. in English, University of California at Berkeley, 1984
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

1

fire

Through the long, lonely years of my childhood, when my father’s palace seemed to tighten its grip around me until I couldn’t breathe, I would go to my nurse and ask for a story. And though she knew many wondrous and edifying tales, the one I made her tell me over and over was the story of my birth. I think I liked it so much because it made me feel special, and in those days there was little else in my life that did. Perhaps Dhai Ma realized this. Perhaps that was why she agreed to my demands even though we both knew I should be using my time more gainfully, in ways more befitting the daughter of King Drupad, ruler of Panchaal, one of the richest kingdoms in the continent of Bharat.

The story inspired me to make up fancy names for myself: Offspring of Vengeance, or the Unexpected One. But Dhai Ma puffed out her cheeks at my tendency to drama, calling me the Girl Who Wasn’t Invited. Who knows, perhaps she was more accurate than I.

This winter afternoon, sitting cross–legged in the meager sunlight that managed to find its way through my slit of a window, she said, “When your brother stepped out of the sacrificial fire onto the cold stone slabs of the palace hall, all the assembly cried out in amazement.”

She was shelling peas. I watched her flashing fingers with envy, wishing she would let me help. But Dhai Ma had very specific ideas about activities that were appropriate for princesses.

“An eyeblink later,” she continued, “when you emerged from the fire, our jaws dropped. It was so quiet, you could have heard a housefly fart.”

I reminded her that flies do not perform that particular bodily function.

She smiled her squint-eyed, cunning smile. “Child, the things you don’t know would fill the milky ocean where Lord Vishnu sleeps—and spill over its edges.”

I considered being offended, but I wanted to hear the story. So I held my tongue, and after a moment she picked up the tale again.

“We’d been praying for thirty days, from sun-up to sundown. All of us: your father, the hundred priests he’d invited to Kampilya to perform the fire ceremony, headed by that shifty-eyed pair, Yaja and Upayaja, the queens, the ministers, and of course the servants. We’d been fasting, too—not that we were given a choice—just one meal, each evening, of flattened rice soaked in milk. King Drupad wouldn’t eat even that. He only drank water carried up from the holy Ganga, so that the gods would feel obligated to answer his prayers.”

“What did he look like?”

“He was thin as the point of a sword, and hard like it, too. You could count every bone on him. His eyes, sunk deep into their sockets, glittered like black pearls. He could barely hold up his head, but of course he wouldn’t remove that monstrosity of a crown that no one has ever seen him without—not even his wives, I’ve heard, not even in bed.”

Dhai Ma had a good eye for detail. Father was, even now, much the same, though age—and the belief that he was finally close to getting what he’d wanted for so long—had softened his impatience.

“Some people,” she continued, “thought he was going to die, but I had no such fears. Anyone who wanted revenge as badly as your royal father did wouldn’t let go of body and breath so easily.” She chewed ruminatively on a handful of peas.

“Finally,” I prompted her, “it was the thirtieth day.”

“And I for one was heartily thankful. Milk and rice husk is all very well for priests and widows, but give me fish curry with green chilies and tamarind pickle any day! Besides, my throat was scraped raw from gabbling all those unpronounceable Sanskrit words. And my buttocks, I swear, they were flat as chapatis from sitting on that freezing stone floor.

“But I was scared, too, and stealing a glance here and there, I saw I wasn’t the only one. What if the fire ceremony didn’t work the way the scriptures had claimed it would? Would King Drupad put us all to death, claiming we hadn’t prayed hard enough? Once I’d have laughed if someone had suggested our king might do that. But things had changed since the day when Drona appeared at court.”

I wanted to ask about Drona, but I knew what she’d say.

Impatient as mustard seeds sputtering in oil, that’s what you are, even though you’re old enough to be married off any day now! Each story will come in its time.

“So when your royal father stood up and poured that last pot of ghee into the flames, we all held our breath. I prayed harder than I’d ever done in my life—though it wasn’t for your brother I was praying, not exactly. Kallu, who was cook’s apprentice then, had been courting me, and I didn’t want to die before I’d experienced the joys of having a man in my bed. But now that we’ve been married for seven years—” Here Dhai Ma paused to snort at the folly of her younger self.

If she got onto the subject of Kallu, I wouldn’t hear the rest of the story today.

“Then the smoke rose,” I interjected, with experienced dexterity.

She allowed herself to be pulled back into the tale. “Yes, and a spiraling, nasty-smelling black smoke it was, with voices in it. The voices said, Here is the son you asked for. He’ll bring you the vengeance you desire, but it’ll break your life in two.

I don’t care about that, your father said. Give him to me.

“And then your brother stepped from the fire.”

I sat up straight to listen better. I loved this part of the story. “What did he look like?”

“He was a true prince, that one! His brow was noble. His face shone like gold. Even his clothes were golden. He stood tall and unafraid, though he couldn’t have been more than five years old. But his eyes troubled me. They were too soft. I said to myself, How can this boy avenge King Drupad? How can he kill a fearsome warrior like Drona?

I worried about my brother, too, though in a different way. He would succeed in completing the task he was born for, I had no doubt of that. He did everything with such meticulous care. But what would it do to him?

I didn’t want to think of it. I said, “And then?”

Dhai Ma made a face. “Can’t wait till you appear, eh, Madam Full of Yourself?” Then she relented.

“Even before we’d finished cheering and clapping, even before your father had a chance to greet your brother, you appeared. You were as dark as he was fair, as hasty as he was calm. Coughing from the smoke, tripping over the hem of your sari, grabbing for his hand and almost sending him tumbling, too—”

“But we didn’t fall!”

“No. Somehow you managed to hold each other up. And then the voices came again. They said, Behold, we give you this girl, a gift beyond what you asked for. Take good care of her, for she will change the course of history.”

“ ‘Change the course of history’! Did they really say that?”

Dhai Ma shrugged. “That’s what the priests claimed. Who can tell for sure? You know how sounds boom and echo in that hall. The king looked startled, but then he picked the two of you up, holding you close to his chest. For the first time in years, I saw him smile. He said to your brother, I name you Dhristadyumna. He said to you, I name you Draupadi. And then we had the best feast this kingdom has ever seen.”

As Dhai Ma counted out the feast foods on her fingers, smacking her lips in happy remembrance, my attention veered to the meaning of the names our father chose. Dhristadyumna, Destroyer of Enemies. Draupadi, Daughter of Drupad.

Dhri’s name fell within the bounds of acceptability—though if I were his parent I might have picked a more cheerful appellation, like Celestial Victor, or Light of the Universe. But Daughter of Drupad? Granted, he hadn’t been expecting me, but couldn’t my father have come up with something a little less egoistic? Something more suited to a girl who was supposed to change history?

I answered to Draupadi for the moment because I had no choice. But in the long run, it would not do. I needed a more heroic name.

Nights, after Dhai Ma had retired to her quarters, I lay on my high, hard bed with its massive posts and watched the oil lamp fling flickery shadows against the pocked stone of the walls. I thought of the prophecy then, with yearning and fear. I wanted it to be true. But did I have the makings of a heroine—courage, perseverance, an unbending will? And shut up as I was inside this mausoleum of a palace, how would history even find me?

But most of all I thought of something that Dhai Ma didn’t know, something that ate at me like the rust corroding the bars on my window: what really happened when I stepped from the fire.

If there were voices, as Dhai Ma claimed, prophesying my life in a garbled roar, they hadn’t come yet. The orange lick of flames fell away; the air was suddenly cold. The ancient hall smelled of incense, and under it, an older smell: war-sweat and hatred. A gaunt, glittering man walked toward my brother and me as we stood hand in hand. He held out his arms—but for my brother alone. It was only my brother he meant to raise up to show to his people. Only my brother that he wanted. Dhri wouldn’t let go of me, however, nor I of him. We clung together so stubbornly that my father was forced to pick us both up together.

I didn’t forget that hesitation, even though in the years that followed King Drupad was careful to fulfill his fatherly duty and provide me with everything he believed a princess should have. Sometimes, when I pressed him, he even allowed me privileges he kept from his other daughters. In his own harsh and obsessive way, he was generous, maybe even indulgent. But I couldn’t forgive him that initial rejection. Perhaps that was why, as I grew from a girl into a young woman, I didn’t trust him completely.

I turned the resentment I couldn’t express toward my father onto his palace. I hated the thick gray slabs of the walls—more suited to a fortress than a king’s residence—that surrounded our quarters, their tops bristling with sentries. I hated the narrow windows, the mean, dimly lit corridors, the uneven floors that were always damp, the massive, severe furniture from generations ago that was sized more for giants than men. I hated most of all that the grounds had neither trees nor flowers. King Drupad believed the former to be a hazard to security, obscuring the vision of the sentries. The latter he saw no use for—and what my father did not find useful, he removed from his life.

Staring down from my rooms at the bare compound stretching below, I’d feel dejection settle on my shoulders like a shawl of iron. When I had my own palace, I promised myself, it would be totally different. I closed my eyes and imagined a riot of color and sound, birds singing in mango and custard apple orchards, butterflies flitting among jasmines, and in the midst of it—but I could not imagine yet the shape that my future home would take. Would it be elegant as crystal? Solidly precious, like a jewel–studded goblet? Delicate and intricate, like gold filigree? I only knew that it would mirror my deepest being. There I would finally be at home.

My years in my father’s house would have been unbearable had I not had my brother. I never forgot the feel of his hand clutching mine, his refusal to abandon me. Perhaps he and I would have been close even otherwise, segregated as we were in the palace wing our father had set aside for us—whether from caring or fear I was never sure. But that first loyalty made us inseparable. We shared our fears of the future with each other, shielded each other with fierce protectiveness from a world that regarded us as not quite normal, and comforted each other in our loneliness. We never spoke of what each one meant to the other—Dhri was uncomfortable with effusiveness. But sometimes I wrote him letters in my head, looping the words into extravagant metaphors. I’ll love you, Dhri, until the great Brahman draws the universe back into Himself as a spider does its web.

I didn’t know then how sorely that love would be tested, or how much it would cost both of us.

2

blue

Perhaps the reason Krishna and I got along so well was that we were both severely dark–skinned. In a society that looked down its patrician nose on anything except milk–and–almond hues, this was considered most unfortunate, especially for a girl. I paid for it by spending hour upon excruciating hour being slathered in skin–whitening unguents and scrubbed with numerous exfoliants by my industrious nurse. But finally she’d given up in despair. I, too, might have despaired if it hadn’t been for Krishna.

It was clear that Krishna, whose complexion was even darker than mine, didn’t consider his color a drawback. I’d heard the stories about how he’d charmed his way into the hearts of the women of his hometown of Vrindavan—all 16,000 of them! And then there was the affair of Princess Rukmini, one of the great beauties of our time. She’d sent him a most indecorous love letter asking him to marry her (to which he’d promptly and chivalrously responded by carrying her off in his chariot). He had other wives, too—over a hundred, at last count. Could the nobility of Kampilya be wrong? Could darkness have its own magnetism?

When I was fourteen, I gathered up enough courage to ask Krishna if he thought that a princess afflicted with a skin so dark that people termed it blue was capable of changing history. He smiled. That was how he often answered my questions, with an enigmatic smile that forced me to do my own thinking. But this time he must have sensed my confused distress, for he added a few words.

“A problem becomes a problem only if you believe it to be so. And often others see you as you see yourself.”

I regarded this oblique advice with some suspicion. It sounded too easy to be true. But when the festival of Lord Shiva approached, I decided to give it a try.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Reading Group Guide

1. In the book's opening pages, Panchaali relates the story of her birth. Dhai Ma says that voices spoke from the fire just before Dhri and Panchaali stepped from it. Given that this narrative is a retelling of the ancient Indian epic, do you read these events as literal or symbolic? How would you describe the reality and the illusions being portrayed in the tale?

2. How does the prediction that Panchaali will change the course of history influence her character as she matures? In what way are her lessons in “the sixty-four arts that noble ladies must know” a challenge to her destiny? Were there predictions made by family or friends early in your life about your future? If so, how did they affect your choices as you grew up?

3. When Sikhandi tells Panchaali the story of his past, Panchaali asks Krishna to confirm it. Krishna responds, “He believes it to be so. Isn't that what truth is? The force of a person's believing seeps into those around him—into the very earth and air and water—until there's nothing else” [p. 49]. How does this description of truth shed light on the ideas of self-determination and destiny throughout the novel?

4. After the predictions made for Panchaali by Vyasa the sage, Panchaali marries the five sons of the widowed queen Kunti. On her wedding night, as she lies on a mat near the brothers' feet, Panchaali thinks of Karna. How does the memory of Karna guide her throughout the narrative? How would you characterize their relationship?

5. Panchaali relates, “Palaces have always fascinated me, even a gloom-filled structure like my father's that was a fitting carapace for his vengeful obsession. For isn't that what our homes are ultimately, our fantasies made corporeal, our secret selves exposed?” [p. 113]. How does the Palace of Illusions, built by Maya, reveal the fantasies and longings of Panchaali's husbands and of Panchaali herself? In what ways does your own home reflect your secret self? If Maya were to build you a palace, what would it be like?

6. After Sisupal's death, Duryodhan builds himself a grand palace and invites Panchaali and the Pandavas to be his guests in Hastinapur. What mental characteristics cause Yudhisthir to lose everything in a last game of dice? How is this catastrophe a personal turning point for Panchaali? When she is taken to court, what does she learn about her power over her husbands? About the purity of her own heart?

7. During their banishment in the forest, Dhri gently chastises Panchaali, asking her where his sweet sister has gone. She thinks to herself, “She's dead. Half of her died the day when everyone she had loved and counted on to save her sat without protest and watched her being shamed. The other half perished with her beloved home. But never fear. The woman who has taken her place will gouge a deeper mark into history than that naïve girl ever imagined” [p. 206]. What emotion does this passage evoke in you toward the characters and their fates? Have events in your own life caused you to be stronger and more determined in achieving your life's purposes?

8. When Panchaali discovers a golden lotus floating in the river, she lifts it to her face and forgets her vengeance. When the color fades and the petals droop, her sorrows return. What advice from Krishna does she remember? When she goes to her faithful husband Bheem and indicates her desire for another lotus to him, how is Panchaali revealing her true character?

9. Panchaali relates the stories of Arjun's encounter with Shiva, his visit to Indra's palace, his refusal of the celestial dancer Urvasi, and the subsequent year he must spend as a eunuch. She says of her husband, “He had glimpsed the truth of existence that extended beyond this oscillating world of pleasure and sorrow” [p. 222]. How does the author use these tales of divine encounters to support and advance the narrative? What effect do Arjun's experiences have on the restless Panchaali? What do they tell us about the nature of the world?

10. In the city of Virat, Panchaali is pursued by the lustful Keechak. When Bheem kills him, the Pandavas and Kauravas do battle, and soon preparations for war are underway. When Surya, the sun-god, comes to Karna in a dream, he tells Karna how to achieve his heart's desire. What do you think is Karna's deepest longing? How does this desire relate to Panchaali's own destiny, as originally predicted by Vyasa?

11. Before the war at Kurukshetra, Panchaali sees a falling star and is heartened. She then says, “I should have remembered how tricky the gods are. How they give what you want with one hand while taking away, with the other, something much more valuable” [p. 252]. How does the author's foreshadowing through the eyes of Panchaali enhance your experience of the tale? How would you characterize Panchaali's attitude toward the gods, and toward her own role in the affairs of the Pandavas?

12. With Vyasa's gift, Panchaali is able to see all that occurs in the war. On the ninth day, she watches Bheeshma, the grandfather, battle Arjun, who had been loved and cared for by Bheeshma as a child. What do you make of Krishna's conversation with Bheeshma during this battle? How is Yudhisthir's phrase “insidious curiosity of womankind” important to understanding Panchaali's obstacles?

13. When Karna learns he is Kunti's son, how does he relate this new knowledge to his fate? What has the “shame of illegitimacy” produced in his life? What does Kunti's having abandoned her son tell you about the relations of mortals to gods in this tale? Have you ever learned a secret about your family history that has had a profound effect on how you viewed yourself?

14. Karna insists he cannot fight against Duryodhan because he has eaten his salt. What did you discover about salt's symbolism in ancient India? Discuss the idea of loyalty brought forth in this scene.

15. When Dhri kills Drona, thereby fulfilling his own predicted destiny, what is Panchaali's reaction? As she narrates the events, what does her tone tell you about her beliefs regarding fate, vengeance, and mortality? Do you admire or sympathize with her beliefs or do you disagree with them?

16. After Karna's death and Duryodhan's defeat at the hands of the Pandavas, a messenger brings word that Dwarka, Krishna's city, has been overtaken. Gandhari's curse, it seems to Panchaali, has been realized. When Arjun relates what happened, why does Yudhisthir acknowledge that it is time for the Pandava warriors to die?

17. As Panchaali goes with her husbands to the base of the Himalayas, to the path of great departure, how do her thoughts and experiences confirm her destiny? What discovery does she make about love? As Krishna guides her through death, how does she remember her life?

18. How does Panchaali's description of death and the afterlife compare to your own beliefs? Do you share her skepticism? How is Panchaali's story “a slippery thing” throughout the narrative, and perhaps most slippery at the end? If you told the story of your life to date, how would you describe the roles of destiny, free will, and cultural ideals?

19. What themes regarding war and destiny in The Palace of Illusions could enlighten world leaders about violent conflicts around the globe? In what way do the other Divakaruni novels you have read blend contemporary relevance with ancient insight?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2008

    A fantastic fiction

    The book so well written and a subject which will touch the hearts of each and every living Hindu person because it brings out every tenent from the epic Mahabharata. Tales which are told to every child in every corner of India from the time they are born. The tales of Krishna, the Pandavas and the Kauravas and the famous Kuruskshetra war are associated with big familes where grandmothers and grandfathers sat around with their children and grandchildren and told glorious tales from the Mahabharata. So not only that it is an epic, it has lot of warm childhood memories, the warmth of love,security,belonging, awe, the soothing voice of a grandmother,grandfather and mother. Tackling this subject without offending anybody's sensibilities because of the way it is knit into the everyday life of the Indian culture . The author Ms Divakaruni handled it so beautifully. Lord Krishna sets the tenets of Bhagvad Gita and every person spends a lifetime to acheive a little of what the Bhagvad Geeta teaches us , especially the Hindus. It was really great of the author to touch this subject and doing it with such senstivity and making it into a fantastic work of fiction . The very essence of the great epic is captured and put in the perception of a famous lady Panchaali who is said to be the reason for the Kurukshetra war and presented in such a beautiful and simple manner. People who are confused by the various names and events when told the actual stories got the actual events fixed in their minds while reading this fantastic piece of fiction. It was handled well. I totally loved the book

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Great Book!

    It was so relaxing to read this book.

    The main character is so strong and independent from most of the women in those days.

    It was slow at first, reading it, but as I got more into it, got more used to the ideas and the characters, I realized that I couldn't put it down.

    This book has really gotten me more interested in Hindu culture and the religion. I'm so glad I was able to read it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 22, 2009

    It was slow at first, but in all other aspects, it was excellent!

    I now have a new respect for myths and stories, the things I have so long exiled from life.

    This book opened me up to Indian culture and way of life, which I admire. I admire the heroism of the protagonist, and I soaked up the many morals the book expressed just as naturally as a sponge soaks up water. :p

    At first I didn't know what I was getting myself into.

    I absolutely LOVED the cover... yes, even after all these years of reading, I still judge books by their covers.

    The magic in the book was everywhere. I loved all the relationships, and I wished that only some would surface more than others, though to my disappointment, they didn't. I'll admit, I tried my best not to get confused by all the references to Hindu religion (I think I'm pairing it with the right one).

    But reading this, made me realize how much more reasonable, Hinduism is than most other popular religions I know.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2009

    wonderful

    This was a wonderful re-telling of an ancient story from a new perspective.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2010

    I didn't like it, but I didn't hate it.

    I found the storytelling to be very slow. Overall, it was a good story but I wouldn't read it again. I've read books much better than this one and it doesn't gain a spot on my list of books I'd recommend.

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  • Posted May 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Great read!

    Divakaruni is one of my fav authors and she has done it again! If you have any familiarity, or even no familiarity, with the epic (and lenghty) history of the Maharbaratha, you will thoroughly enjoy this read -- Divakaruni gives every characters entirey new life, and you meet a side of them you mayhave guessed was there, but were never introduced to before. The voice of Draupadi (narrator of the story - which evens more originality to shi version) is dramatic, thoughtful, pointed, inquisitive, and headstrong -- all at the same time. A fantastic read for anyone interested in the epic history of India and the subcontinent.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2010

    This is my absolute favorite book!!

    I originally just got this book for its cover. It facinated me and I really wanted to see what the book was about because of it. It took me a few times to actually start the book because I couldn't wrap my head around the idea of her being born from fire. After I got past the first chapter it made me feel as if i was part of the story. Panchali's relationship with Kirishna just facinated me and I loved how he felt like a father to her. He was my favorite character. Dhri, her brother, was so close to Panchali and they knew everything about eachother.they could always tell what the other was thinking. I absolutly loved her husbands strength with her temper. She always had complete control over all five though, which i respected. She is one of the strongest people that I have read about in a long time. She struggles with her love for Karna, but is able to stay strong and not let her love for him reaveled.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Worst Book I Have Ever Read

    Initially I was very interested in this book, the cover looked interesting and when I read the back it sort of reminded me of One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was slow to begin with but I continued to read it because I heard it would eventually pick up. This never happened. This book was a complete waste of my time. Not only is it horribly written and completely unoriginal (the basic story is taken from the Mahabharat), you never connect with any character in the book and towards the end you are really wishing this train wreck will end sooner than later. There are so many names and subplots in this book that literally towards the third chapter, each chapter being about six pages, you have forgotten half of the information that was given to you and all of the characters story lines. For instance, the main character has three names that are interchangeble throughout the book (Drupadi, Panchaali, and Krishnaa). Divakaruni has truly released an amazing piece of rubbish that cannot even be called literature but should be refered to as a strain of poorly worded sentences that deserves to be thrown in the garabage and forgotten about as soon as possible. DO NOT READ!!!! IT'S SOOO INCREDIBLY BAD

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2009

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    Posted September 30, 2009

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    Posted January 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2009

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    Posted August 11, 2012

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    Posted January 8, 2013

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    Posted April 6, 2009

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    Posted July 7, 2009

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    Posted November 3, 2012

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    Posted May 9, 2009

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    Posted March 15, 2009

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