Book Review : The Palace of Illusions

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“The heart itself is beyond control. That is its power, and its weakness.” 

Written by Chitra bannerjee Divyakurni this beautiful book sways you into some other world. It is an interpretation of the events of the Hindu epic Mahabharata through the lens of the woman, Draupadi who married the five Pandava brothers, the greatest heroes of their time. The novel is written portraying Panchali’s own thoughts on her own life.

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As a child, Panchaali is a head-strong girl who finds ways to learn things that only boys were taught in school. Rather than sitting at home, she yearns for the life that males were granted. Panchaali wants to be taught the ways of men and how they acquire power, and she learns all she can from her brother who meant a lot to her and his teacher.
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A sage tells Panchaali early in life that she will end up marrying five men and that she will be the reason for the start of a great war, which will destroy the “Third Age of Man.” Panchaali doesn’t believe this at first, but as the divinations come true one after another, she admits that the wise sage was right and realizes that her life is not going to be an easy one.

Women are strong characters in this version of the tale and take center stage. Along with the charismatic Panchaali, readers are introduced to the unnerving Kunti, Panchaali’s mother-in-law, who is doing what she can to make her daughter-in-law’s life deplorable. The two clash often throughout most of their lives, but there will come a time when they finally see each other eye to eye.

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An extending thread in the story is Panchaali’s friendship with Krishna, the one person in her life on whom she constantly relies on for companionship and advice. Even during her marriage to the five brothers, Krishna is still there for he, if not physically, then in spirit. She doesn’t realize how much she loves him until it’s too late.

Panchaali’s secret love however, is for Karna, the man she rejected initially on her wedding day. Her love for him devours her, for now she cannot have him. When she learns of a secret that involves him and her mother-in-law, it is all she can do to keep from revealing it to her husbands. Still, no matter how angry she is with Karna or how much he hates her for rejecting him, her passion for him smolders until the day she dies.

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The Palace Of Illusions spans a lifetime from Panchaali and her brother’s childhood, to her marriage to the five Pandava brothers, to the great war and their ruination. It is grand yet¬†tragic, all at once .The story is composite, as political relationships grow and develop, while friends and enemies are created, leading to battles and wars that will eventually destroy them all.

However, what captivated me the most was its tragic storyline and the fate into which Panchaali was born. This admirable attempt to recreate the epic Mahabharata from the viewpoint of Draupadi is Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s one of the best works.

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