Book Review: The Palace of Illusions

There are a handful of books out there that have a lasting impact on its readers. Some of the books in the market that carry the tag of being ‘best-sellers’ fail to cast an impression on the reader’s mind. Having said so, there are a few stories that remain with you for days after you have turned the last page of the book. Stories that make its readers upset as they proceed towards the inevitable end of the narrative. Such is the story The Palace of Illusions, a novel written by Chitra Banarjee Divakaruni.

A 2008 novel, the story of The Palace of Illusions is an interpretation of the Hindu epic Mahabharata narrated from Draupadi’s (Panchaali) point of view. The story throws light on the great war fought between the Pandavas and Kauravas, perceived from the eyes of a woman who stands in a patriarchal world.

This fire-born Princess of Panchala, daughter of King Drupad has always been identified as the catastrophe behind the war fought between the cousins. The Palace of Illusions shows her character from a different standpoint. It traces the life of Draupadi from her birth to a forlorn childhood, to her marriage to the 5 Pandava brothers, motherhood and finally talks about her last moments on Earth as she succumbs to death on her path to Himalaya. The book also talks about the close bond Draupadi shared with the enigmatic Krishna, about her doubts on whether Krishna was truly divine and also her love for Karna. As the pages turn to unfold the story, your heart goes out to the protagonist. Living in a male dominated world, Draupadi loses her beloved home, freedom and her honour as she is gambled away in a game between her husband Yudhishtria and his cousin Duryodhan and is stripped in public. Tricked in the game of dice because of Duryodhan’s deceitful uncle Shakuni, the eldest of the Pandavas loses his kingdom, his fortune, his brothers and even himself as he gambles them away.

And during this course of time, Draupadi endures all her loses while secretly loving the man who is her husbands’ most dangerous rival.

The Palace of Illusions is a poignant re-count of the ancient Mahabharata with the author’s inventive variations. What’s most impressive is that the book explains the intricate plot leading to Kurukshetra in a lucid way. It’s been chalked out smoothly and has a coherent plot that is easy to comprehend especially for readers who are unaware about the minute details that build the mythical story of Mahabharata.

The book is an interesting take on the turn of events as it is Vyaa’s story through the eyes of its most controversial character. And the author has done a wonderful job. Her character sketch is brilliant and her narrative style pulls you into the story and holds you till your eyes fall on the last word.

The Palace of Illusions is an intriguing, insightful and well-written book, especially for the ones who are alien to classic Indian literature.

- Esha Chanda

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