Book Review: The Palace of Illusions

After taking a long time, 5-10 pager per day, I finally finished reading The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The book is super interesting and those who have ample amount of time in their hands can finish it off in merely 2-3 days (unlike me as it took me a month). Before recommending the book to any other person, I thought of sharing my views about the writing, story, chapters, characters and the perspective of the book.

The Language:

This is the first book I read by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. English is very simple yet rich. Not once I had to stop reading and grab a dictionary. So all those people who want to improve their English or trying to get a hold on overall English reading, this book is a go for you. She has also incorporated some Hindi words (you can call those proper nouns) which gives you a very familiar feeling while reading.

The book has also been translated in Marathi, Gujarati and Hindi but I read the original English copy.

The Story:

A few years back, I read the whole Mahabharata and my heart told me to be on the side of Kauravas. Pandavas and Kauravas both sides were bad, nasty, they both broke the rules of the great battle, both were selfish and both were equally wrong yet right. It’s all about our perspective, as to how we see the story. I hate Pandavas, Draupadi, Kunti and most importantly Krishna for the part they played in the great battle. And I believe that Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has given the exact words for my feelings.

The book is like the memoirs of Draupadi. Banerjee has written beautifully about the emotions and traumas Draupadi faces from the moment she is born. Her Draupadi is a selfish, ruthless, narcissist woman with a high temper. Her confused emotions for Karna are so apt that even I shred few tears for him while reading.

Mahabharata is a very big canvas and writing it from one person’s perspective is a very difficult task. But Banerjee has re-written the story beautifully. But still, those who are absolutely blank about Mahabharata or those who know only majors characters of Mahabharata or those who are unaware of the other related stories with Mahabharata (like the story of Yadu clan) can get lost in the pages. The story lacks at points where the subsidiary stories of Mahabharata are mentioned slightly. There are chances that the readers might not understand what they just read or its significance.

The Chapters:

Banerjee has divided her story aptly in many chapters. The titles of the chapters are of not more than one or two words. She takes the story further to the Mahabharata war. Till then each chapter holds a balanced equation of philosophy, love, hatred, past stories, character introductions, drama and well thought emotional levels. But after the Mahabharata war, the chapters take a philosophical turn. In the whole book, Draupadi uses the words like I and We to tell her story but in the last few chapters it becomes too much of ‘I’.

I know it’s Draupadi’s perspective, her story and her emotions but that much of narcissism bored me a little bit. I literally glanced through the pages after the Mahabharata war and jumped to the last chapter.

The Characters:

The protagonist Draupadi (who I think is also the antagonist if you get into the philosophy) is portrayed perfectly by Banerjee. She is exactly what I had always thought of. And what can I say about Karna? Like many people even I used to feel pity for Karna, but as I started reading Banerjee’s Karna I fell in love with him. Her Karna acts and talks when necessary, he is calm and composed, he is strong yet foolishly emotional. I was able to put faces on Pandavas, Kauravas, Kunti, Bhishma, Dhritarashtra, Drupad and others as I kept reading.

Even the secondary characters like the people of Hastinapur, Draupadi’s maids, their servants, the widows of the soldiers and the animals of Nakul-Sahadev were written with great visual detailing.

The Locations:

The story covers many palaces, forests, huts and battlegrounds in the book. The description of The Palace of Illusions is worth a read. I won’t write much about the locations here and would recommend you to read those in the book to avoid *spoilers*.

The Final Word:

Yes, you should definitely read this book. It’s a good travel or weekend read. But before reading, make sure that you know a little bit about Mahabharata or keep the internet close to Google the story or characters which you don’t know.

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