Taking us back to a time that is half history, half myth and wholly magical, bestselling author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni gives voice to Panchaali, the fire-born heroine of the Mahabharata, as she weaves a vibrant retelling of an ancient epic saga.
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.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of the novels Queen of Dreams, The Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, Before We Visit the Goddess, One Amazing Thing, Oleander Girl, 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.
Hometown:Houston, Texas, and San Jose, California
Date of Birth:July 29, 1956
Place of Birth:Kolkata, India
Education:B.A. in English, Kolkata University 1976; Ph.D. in English, University of California at Berkeley, 1984
Read an Excerpt
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.
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.
Reading Group Guide
“A radiant entree into an ancient mythology virtually unknown to the Western world. . . . Remarkable.”
The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's mesmerizing novel, The Palace of Illusions.
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?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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
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.
This was a wonderful re-telling of an ancient story from a new perspective.
The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is unlike any book I've read before.. It begins with the main character and her brother being born in fire in a religious ceremony, with it foretold that she will change the course of history, and he will avenge their royal father. Had I picked up (on Richard's recommendation) a fantasy, or a romance, or some hybrid creation?Nope. This novel is derived from the Indian epic The Mahabharata, and has a vast scope that Homer would have enjoyed. The author has prized loose the female story threads from the epic and rewoven them into a compelling novel. Although there are many fantastic occurrences along the way, the story is driven by basic human urges - love, ambition, pride, vengeance and resistance to oppression. Princess Panchaali will not be treated as a dependent girl, and mostly successfully insists on receiving a man's education like her brother Dhri. Over time she'll prove the cleverest and most dominating of them all, save perhaps for the divine incarnation Krishna, who cajoles and criticizes her, in a kind way, from a loftier perspective. She increasingly realizes how important his presence is to her, and I always found his appearances in the book uplifting, too.Important promises are made and broken, a kingdom is stolen by trickery and through weakness, and vengeance is sworn. Panchaali improbably is married to five husbands at once, as is foretold, and finds her way to the dream-like Palace of Illusions created in the desert, beautifully described by the author. Some who are high are brought low, and fight to regain what they had lost. Panchaali balances her own thirsts for revenge with her obligations to her husbands and her people, and struggles with exchanging her ardor and anger for the more tranquil and far-reaching views provided by Krishna. She has a strong voice and develops a prickly reputation because of it. Like a reverse Helen of Troy, her curse on the unrighteous may lead to a massive war. The fight will not be over the beauty of Panchaali, but over the truth and irresistibility of her anger.Yet we believe in and follow Panchaali for smaller reasons provided by the author - her thwarted love for another, her struggles with male oppression and court politics, her sense of honor, her love for the beautiful palace, her wisdom when faced with difficulty, her recognition of her faults."The princess who longed for acceptance, the guilty girl whose heart wouldn't listen, the wife who balanced her fivefold role precariously, the rebellious daughter-in-law, the queen who ruled in the most magical of palaces, the distracted mother, the beloved companion of Krishna, who refused to learn the lessons he offered, the woman obsessed with vengeance - none of them were the true Panchaali.If not, who was I?"I was caught up in the same question. And the question of how Panchaali fit within the ethical and religious threads of The Mahabharata woven through the story. Like Homer's Greek poems, this is a brave and bloody story. As epic battles rage, who are the real winners and losers? The finale of the book brings it all into a buoyant and beautifully rendered perspective that flat knocked me out.
A retelling of the Mahabharat from a woman¿s point of view. This is a very interesting take on an otherwise traditional story, because although there are women in the Mahabharat/Ramayana, their role is secondary, and mostly as honor/child bearers. There are some women who do get their way, but they are generally ¿evil¿, for example Kaikeyi in the Ramayana. There literally are no strong women, who wield any influence, or can even do as they think. There is Kunti in the Mahabharat, who bears children as an unmarried virgin, but, yeah, what a mistake, she has to give them up, and can never acknowledge Karna as her own. You hear of educated women in traditional texts, but for all their education, very few do little more than birth sons. So among a pantheon of men, hearing what a woman thinks (and speaks) is refreshing to read.I am not a big fan of Divakaruni¿s, but did immensely enjoy this book. She fleshes out Draupadi¿s character quite nicely, right from her birth from fire, until the Great War, where she is blessed with the ¿sight¿. And told from Draupadi¿s point of view, there are subtle nuances to the story which would never get told otherwise. Yes, it is true that Divakaruni embellishes certain aspects of the story, such as Draupadi¿s views on men having more than one wife, or even her feelings with regards to Karuna, but that ¿embellishment¿ to me, just made it more interesting.
I was never particularly drawn to the heroine of [The Palace of Illusions], by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, but I loved to watch her story unfold. As with many great women, she made choices that distanced herself from the masses (and me!), but hers was not an ordinary road. Who else do you know that was married to five royal brothers at the same time? I have never read the classic Indian tale Mahabharat, on which this book is based, but it was great to read a feminist version of life in the monarchy, with all its political intrigues and the complex weaving of gender roles, birthrights, castes and gods. Told with great imagination and a strong sense of humor. Four stars.
Anyone familiar with The Mahabharata may find this an interesting angle to the famous Indian epic. The tale follows the life of Panchaali, or Queen Draupadi and her part in the lives of the Pandava princes and the battle that ended the Third Age of Man. A sage she visited had this to foretell: "You will marry the five greatest heroes of your time. You will be queen of queens, envied even by goddesses. You will be a servant maid. You will be mistress of the most magical of palaces and then lose it.You will be remembered for causing the greatest war of your time.You will bring about the deaths of evil kings - and your children's and your brother's. A million women will become will become widows because of you, Yes, indeed, you will leave a mark on history.You will be loved, though you will not always recognize who loves you. Despite your five husbands,you will die alone, abandoned at the end - and yet not so".There is royal intrigue, magic, vengeance, a plethora of Gods, and at the center of it all, the strong heart of a woman who was like no other. I could not like her all the time, and her pride and stubbornness did bring about unfortunate events, but I did feel sorry for her.There is a wealth of characters in this book with hidden depths, and even if you aren't familiar with the epic Mahabharata, this is still a good story in and of itself.
I'd give it six stars if I could.Peak reading experiences come all too seldom in life. I think one knows it's a peak when it's almost too painful to endure that the book is ending, but almost too painful to endure to put it down and turn out the light. Then the book comes to you in your dreams, the characters and the situations work their magical way into your receptive dream-mind, and make not only waking hours painfully happy with the reading or anticipation of reading but the sleeping hours more vivid and more real and more alive than ever.That's what happened to me as I read The Palace of Illusions. I've dreamed of its characters, I've lived vicariously its plot and its many eventful twists for a month of nights, and I truly can't express to you how much pleasure it's given me to do so. I wish for everyone that experience, if not with this book then with another, and soon. It makes a whole new level of appreciation come, or come back, to you when you come across one of these books.I have had the life-changing experience twice before, and I still treasure those memories. I will treasure this one equally. I suppose the idea of the book, retelling a classic Indian foundational myth called Mahabharat from the point-of-view of a female character, is in keeping with today's popular trend of reimagining myths from all angles and stances. I certainly am aware that telling any Indian myth from a female point of view is a departure from the cultural norms of that society, and to be applauded for that reason alone; but what Divakaruni wrought in doing this is nothing short of creating a new foundation myth on the stones of the old one. I think a woman who has five husbands wished on her as she comes into this world from a fiery column is worth hearing more about; so did Divakaruni; and thus the tale told here. The myth merely mentions her in passing, which is a curious piece of patriarchal doublethink that never ceases to amaze me when I encounter it. A little like Eve's untold story in Christian myth, and the odd absence of Hera stories as separate from Zeus and his philandering. Extraordinary men need extraordinary women, and simply not telling me-the-reader about them doesn't make them not exist; it merely hides them in deep and scary shadows until a woman with the right eyes comes along, sees the real story, and sets about telling it.We are all of us readers the richer for Divakaruni's gift of this book to us. I do not, however, recommend it to all readers; I don't think its power is in its broad appeal but in its complete appeal. I suspect that some whose reading preferences are more aimed at comfort and at the satisfactions of reinforcement and reassurance would find this an unpleasant book to read. But I truly wish for each of you that you give it a try, let it at least make a start on working its beautiful enchantment on you. I hope it will be able to speak its way into your dreams the way it did mine.
I enjoyed reading this novel based on the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata. The book is written from the point of view of Draupadi (daughter of Drupad), also referred to as Panchaali. So, it is a distinctive women's story that remains fairly faithful to the original. Panchaali is central to the epic, as she is the wife of all the five Pandava brothers, Yudhisthir (Yudhisthira), Bheem (Bhima), Arjun (Arjuna), Nakul (Nakula), Sahadev (Sahadeva). Note, the names in parentheses are the more common English renditions of the Sanskrit names. We are taken through her young life, the oddness of her multiple marriage situation, the dispute with the Kauravas (actually somewhat distant relatives) that leads to banishment of the Pandavas, but ultimately to a war whose worth is questioned. Panchaali's relationship with Krishna is explored -- the god-man who pops in and out of the picture almost in a trickster fashion, but whose philosophy is core to much in Hinduism. I think the ending of the book lends greater finesse to the orginal story as I had observed in the Peter Brooks film of a number of years ago. This was an engrossing read.
First I think it is important to mention that I have never read the Mahabharata on which "The Palace of Illusions in Based". I have read various Indian short stories, myths, and teachings including several translations of the Yoga Sutras. I was always intimidated by the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita because they are written in verse which to me is easier to listen to then read. They are also predominantly about war and battles which is generally not an interest not something I enjoy reading about. I was attracted to Illusion both because it was a retelling of the story which I knew wouldn't focus on battles and from the perspective of the female characters in the book. I know that many will scoff at the idea of this but I feel completely encouraged now to read both Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita because now I will have a context to put them in and an easier time reading the verse. Reading this book was similar to reading "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West". The story is told from the point of view of Panchaali and she narrates the story starting when she is very young. Whole chapters have other characters telling stories that Panchaali is not involved in as a dialogue between herself and other characters. I especially enjoyed this technique in an early chapter when she and her brother Dhri go back and forth about how their father's generation got into their current problems. Her nanny tells her the story of her birth through fire and other stories come along the way. For the most part Panchaali talks about what she is experiencing and how she feels about things. She starts with very child-like ideas but as the story progresses some depth is acquired.Overall I loved the story. I was able to keep the many characters straight with no problem even though there was as many as Anna Karenina and only consulted the family tree at the beginning a couple times. I grew to love many of the characters and was really repelled by others. The story moved at a great pace and I stayed up late reading because it was so exciting.I think many people would really love this book. If you are interested in mythology or Indian History but intimidated by the classic works I highly recommend this book and Ganesha Goes to Lunch. Both are re-tellings of these ancient stories in modern language. I also think that fans of Wicked and the whole genre of seeing an old story from another point of view would really enjoy this book. Finally, I don't think it is at all out of reach for young adults. As a young person I would have adored this book. It was really wonderful, filled with magic, gods, and learning.
It was with great pleasure that I dove into Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and upon reading it, I was not disappointed. I have read nearly all of Divakaruni's books, and this is just another in a long line of colorful, magical, and insightful offerings from this author. The story is the tale of the life of Panchaali, an Indian historical/mythical character from the famous Mahabharat. The book is filled with touches of magical realism and character portrayals that will keep the reader engaged and craving more of the story. The story has much to say about the awful destruction that war wreaks upon its participants, and also contains many illuminating passages speculating the divine in everyday life. The last passages are hauntingly beautiful, and remarkably moving. If you are looking for a flavorful yet unconventional re-telling of some of India's most marvelous stories, you can't go wrong with this gem of a book. Highly recommended.
The Palace of Illusions, the best selling novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, gives a whole new perspective of Mahabharata from a woman's point of view. It is a fresh and different view in a patriarchal society. The story travels with Panchali, right from her birth from the fire to the time she dies, so as to finally be with that person who she loved all through her life but never obtained. Right from the time she was born, Panchali had only her brother as her confidante and was the only person she was genuinely close to. In the patriarchal society, only her brother offered her atleast some part of the extensive knowledge she craved for. But even her brother could not provide her all the information. And she was a very curious and very forward person for her era. So, very soon, she found another source to obtain information, in her friend Krishna. Draupadi found a special comradeship in Krishna because of his way of answering every question in the form of a riddle and also because he always treated her as an equal, which was very rare in her time. However, at every step, Panchali tried to fight her fate, and no matter how hard she tried, she always found out that she was just a pawn in a much larger game. Right from the time she had to choose not to marry the one person she absolutely loved to the point of not able to save her sons even when she knew they would be dead soon, she had to sacrifice a lot in her life, both knowingly and unknowingly. Every step she was demanded a sacrifice, she played the next step to her advantage. Many a times, she went on to purposely hurt others for the sacrifices she made. But as time passes, and as humans grow older, they turn wiser and Draupadi was no different in that. She realized that everything is ultimately only a game in the hands of God and there is very little that humans can do to change or even alter fate. But by the time she came to this conclusion, her life was almost over. The Palace of Illusions is a very interesting read for anyone who likes Indian Mythology and wants a fresh and different perspective to the conventional story. Panchali is portrayed as a very strong character who, inspite of being ridiculed and mistreated by almost everyone for her boldness, she maintained her individuality and pride and did not bow down in front of even the seniormost authority. Yes, she did take vengence to a very next level and brought a whole clan down to avenge her anger. But she also tolerated and lived through a lot of injustice, which would have broken any other female of her stature. She brought the position of being a Princess and a Queen to a whole new level. She commands respect at every step of the novel. Overall, the book deserves 5 stars, if not more
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.
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.
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.
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.